In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Recapitulation Theory
  • Mira Dougherty-Johnson (bio)

Every so often, scientists come along and louse everything all up. Pluto is no longer a planet. Glass is not actually an extremely slow-moving liquid. Lucy, the 3-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton found in Ethiopia, is not indeed our oldest ancestor.

Pluto I will have to deal with, but no one ever comes in for books on the states of matter, so I can wait a little on this. And because lineage is an interest of mine, I already have some new ones on the advances in evolution. Every year, there is at least one senior who does a thesis on evolution versus creationism. They think it will be an easy topic, one they can dash off, no matter which side they are on. Their teacher has suggested this subject and also recommended to them Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape, a 1967 publication and one of the first books I got rid of when I took over this library. Now, because they think they need it so urgently, because their teacher has said it, I dutifully request it from the county system.

It comes, a yellowed paperback with reinforced covers, a plain yellow front, not the original version with three nude bodies seen from behind—man, woman, child. When I hand it over with my usual caveat that I have borrowed this from another library for you, that it must come back all of a piece and on time, I offer another stack as well, reprints of Darwin, the slickest sleekest of the new books on the topic, a few relevant copies of Scientific American and National Geographic. I remind them that the Morris book was written in the 1960s, that there have been many new, interesting discoveries since then, that many other writers have also developed exciting theories. I even tell them to poke around on the Internet, read what people think of Morris’s argument, see what else they can find. When the bell rings, they pocket the small yellow book, leave the rest piled on the library tables. [End Page 69]

What makes a classic? What magical combinations produce such a long-term bestseller? The copy I threw away was ripped, brittle, and musty, but perhaps I should have replaced it instead. I keep learning things about this battle I have waged against time, so maybe I still will.

Now that Pluto is a dwarf planet, an “ice dwarf” because it is so cold, all my solar system books are wrong. No doubt the publishers are scrambling to make glossy updated versions explaining the new ways we now define the class of planets. They will still talk about Pluto’s three moons—Charon, Nix, and Hydra—and most will probably still tell about how in 1930 Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old girl from Oxford, wrote in to the newspapers to suggest the name of the Roman god of the underworld for this far-flung celestial body. Now they can also explain about the concession made, a let’s not totally obliterate Pluto’s ego, let’s have some consideration for his feelings: Pluto is now also a plutoid, a new category of dwarf planets suspended beyond Neptune. There are only two more at the moment, Eris and Make-make.

Which of the old books to save for archival purposes? Which one will tell the story of the old science best? Which will sit in my tiny Historical Collection next to What Makes a Telephone Work? (1970) by Len Darwin, with its hand-drawn diagrams of cables and switches, the bewitching action set afoot when “O” is for dialed for Operator? Or Woman and the New Race by Margaret Sanger (1920), who rails presciently against our current population of 7 billion? Or Rockets through Space (1958) by Lester Del Rey, a book with lush paintings and a grave prediction that one day a man will walk on the moon?

Even though it has little effect on my library collection, I am most troubled by the discovery about glass. It feels like fact to me that glass flows microscopically over centuries. I have been taken to old places...


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pp. 69-77
Launched on MUSE
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