“They’re often very eccentric,” says Milton S. Love of the quirky ichthyologists he profiles as one part of his latest book. “Some of these people are just weird.” Of course, the renowned UCSB marine biologist — who sports fish tattoos, writes bluesy odes to bocaccio, runs a research facility proudly called the “Love Lab,” and spends lots of hours in a personal submarine at unhuman depths in the Santa Barbara Channel — might as well be describing himself.
For conclusive evidence, look no further than his recently published tome, 650 pages of technical data drenched in anecdotal whimsy called, quite accurately, Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. It’s the most exhaustive compendium of knowledge about West Coast fish species ever created, with data on everything from range and behavior to colloquial names and flexion length (whatever that is), not to mention pretty pictures and occasional paintings of them all. But it’s also chock-full of riddles, historical interludes, poetic odes to forgotten fish experts, and “totally unrelated riffs.”
“It’s a work of art,” said Love. “I define art as anything that a person creates that causes the observer to think or to react. That can be a dance, that can be a movie, that can be a book. So what I tried to do is create something that works for the observer on a number of levels.”
And just a month since publication, they are already observing, with Cal Poly and a university in Washington state picking up the book for students (“My hope is to get a huge slice of the textbook market,” he quipped. “Then I could sit back and drink beer.”) and nearly 200 requesting that Love personally sign their copies with a kiss in Burt’s Bees lipstick, either the guava or rhubarb color. “To my intense surprise,” he laughed, “guava has been incredibly popular, rhubarb not so much.”
Altogether, it’s a sweet look inside a strangely inspiring mind. “It sums up how my brain works,” said Love. “I’ve got the technical, scientific side, and I also got the whimsical and fiercely creative side. I tried to slam them together and see if I could cause some kind of explosion in people’s minds.”
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