Published in: Reference Column
Date: March 1997
Self Improvement in Small Bites
by Stephanie Gold

Self-improvement is my goal, but I don't want to overdo it, so I'm starting small, with reasonable expectations. This week I aim to understand beetles and learn how to order intelligently in a Japanese restaurant.

"An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles" is the text of choice for my first task. Written eruditely and engagingly by Arthur V. Evans and Charles L. Bellamy, with unworldly, astoundingly beautiful beetle photography by Lisa Charles Watson, this book has none of the dryness some souls may associate with the term "coleoptera." The title comes from Haldane, who was asked what could be inferred about the work of God from a study of the world. It's also what sold me on the book.

On page 1 I learned there is a minimum of 350,000 known species of beetles and that if all the world's plant and animal species were laid end to end, every fifth one would be a beetle. Wow. By the time I'm done, my friends, family, and business acquaintances will be in for quite a treat: the Beetle Bore strikes again.

Tearing myself from beetle photos, I turn my attention to Japanese food. A brief stint teaching English in Osaka taught me that the food is glorious, but I can barely remember how to say "thank you very, very much for everything," let alone how to ask for the rice casserole with chicken and chestnuts that gave me a glimpse of Japanese heaven. "What's What in Japanese Restaurants" by Robb Satterwhite, however, has an in-depth description of kamameshi, the rice dish of yore, not to mention a whole vocabulary devoted to eel.

Now I feel ready to invite my special someone out to a fine Japanese meal. Then, over skewers of yakitori and a mound of yorisoba noodles with dipping sauces, I can take a sip of sake, gaze into his eyes, and ask, "Curious about beetles?"

--San Francisco is the home of terrific Japanese food, many species of beetle, and freelance writer Stephanie Gold.