Killer Nashville Book of the Day
The Secret Lives of Bats by Dr. Merlin Tuttle / Reviewed by Emily Eytchison
When first introduced to Dr. Merlin Tuttle by a blurb calling him “the real-life Batman”, I was somewhat offended. (Unreasonably so, but offended all the same.) Batman is a cultural icon, a living embodiment of justice. How DARE someone usurp that title, particularly without dedicating every second, every penny, every muscle he has to fighting crime?
But then, I opened his book.
The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) opens with an account of the September 1984 hysteria in Austin, Texas, over an influx of migrant Brazilian bats, which initially sounded more like a political allegory than an actual historic happening. Violent, widespread bat-hatred? Seemed a little far-fetched to me. But my very ignorance speaks to the impact of Merlin Tuttle’s life’s work.
In the preface, Dr. Tuttle’s account of Bat Conservation International’s first bat-rescue mission reads like a modern fairy tale: Austin, a city overcome by unfounded phobia, becomes a city that boasts its bat population as a major tourist attraction to this day, thanks to Merlin Tuttle’s calm and resolute intercession. The story of transformation is almost too good to be true. How often can one man say he changed an entire city by changing a few key citizens’ minds?
Yet that is the power of truth, as this tireless bat protector discovered early in his life. Although Tuttle never refers to himself this way (anymore than he refers to himself as a real-life Bruce Wayne), he emerges from the pages of his book as a near-mythic champion of knowledge, compassion, and love triumphing over ignorance, confusion, and hate.
Throughout the book, Tuttle cites so many near-death experiences, ingenious bat-study inventions, and miraculous conversions of bat haters that it is hard to believe he exists. Every time you think you’ve come through the most outrageous story, Tuttle outdoes himself with the next chapter, all with a modest, no-nonsense narrative voice that, like any conscientious scientist, simply states the facts.
Whether he’s describing the sweet and expressive (albeit strange) features of free-tailed bats, or run-ins with moonshiners and belligerent brothel owners, Tuttle writes with a gentle authority that balances extensive research with good storytelling. Latin names and scientific terms become integral parts of an often dangerous adventure story that began with one boy’s desire to understand bats because he did not believe that their stigma was true or fair. The horrors he sees human beings inflict on innocent bats along the way underscore the importance of his inspiring journey, from an inquisitive explorer to an expert quietly asking us to listen, learn, and care.
Merlin Tuttle may never have donned a cape, but he has become a formidable advocate for a group of maligned and defenseless creatures. He is a man who, for over half a century, has dedicated his life to fighting injustice with his time, resources, and considerable intellect.
Sounds like the kind of bat-themed hero we needed, after all.
Emily Eytchison is a huge fan of anything furry and mouse-like. She tried to save a trapped bat this summer using only her empathy and a paper plate. (Somebody more qualified eventually stepped in.) She likes Star Wars, popcorn with M&Ms, and wants to save the world. That’s basically it.
If you have a book you would like featured, send an ARC for consideration. The Killer Nashville Book Reviews are coordinated by Clay Stafford with the assistance of Emily Eytchison and credited guest reviewers.
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