The Lives of Flies

Jonathan Balcombe talks about “Super Fly,” and Marjorie Ingall discusses Holocaust literature for children.












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The subtitle of Jonathan Balcombe’s new book, “Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects” leads to the first question on this week’s podcast. Why “successful”?

“Their diversity, for one,” Balcombe says. “There’s over 160,000 described species — and it’s important to add that qualifier, ‘described,’ because it’s estimated there may be about five times that many that are undescribed. Insects make up 80 percent of all animal species on the planet, so that says something right there about how incredibly successful they are, and flies are arguably the most species-rich subset of insects. It’s estimated there’s about 20 million flies on earth at any moment for every human who’s on the earth. And they occupy all seven continents.”

Marjorie Ingall visits the podcast this week to discuss her essay about why she finds it troubling that children’s literature focuses so relentlessly on the Holocaust.

“Just as Black kids deserve more than books about slavery and suffering — they deserve books about Black joy and Black excellence — so too do Jewish kids deserve books that reflect the incredible diversity and often happiness of their lives,” Ingall says. “And I think sometimes we push the Holocaust because we want to tell kids: ‘Look where you come from; look how important it is to be Jewish; look how people died because they were Jewish.’ When we’re talking about children’s books, that is not a way to make kids feel a connection.”

Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Elisabeth Egan and Joumana Khatib talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

“A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki

“The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith

“My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].

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