A dilettante is someone who dabbles in a given field. They are non-experts, they are amateurs, and they will not usually receive a paycheck for their interests or their work. Nevertheless the dilettante is drawn to explore and learn what they can about a given subject through study, practice, and experimentation. Perhaps you are a dilettante woodworker (whose chairs are never perfectly straight), or a dilettante gardener (who has killed a cacti or two). Maybe you like to sculpt with clay, but your sculptures would never earn a spot in a museum. I suspect that we are all dilettantes at something.
Deep down, I have always been a bit of a dilettante scientist…which is a nice way of saying I was an odd kid, and have grown into an eccentric adult. I spent a lot of time reading textbooks as a child, and jumped into scientific and exploratory endeavors that ruined more than a few nice things owned by my parents. In particular, before the age of ten I had ruined: a fish tank, my dad’s file set, an electric drill, a ceiling fan, a backyard (digging for archaeological artifacts, of course), a gallon of gasoline (don’t ask), several knives, a flashlight and two wrenches (which attracted crawfish when dropped into our pond), several ornamental trees, and my bedroom carpet (fingerprinting and carpets don’t mix…in case you were wondering). And that’s just what I remember!
Thankfully, my parents loved me despite my curious and destructive tendencies, and as an adult I mostly confine my learning to reading. Also thankfully, early in my life I found that libraries were a natural habitat for people like myself– those who want to know a little bit about everything, but never quite find the time to learn a lot about any one thing. Occasionally I run into kids at the library that remind me of myself when I was a kid – totally geek-ing out over dinosaurs, plate tectonics, forensic science, or big pictures of awesome bugs! These kids are my people, and they make my week every time I talk with one of them.
So in the spirit and celebration of dilettantism, I have created this list of popular science titles representing most of the scientific fields (biology, physics, chemistry, etc.). You may note that it is odd for a Youth Librarian to be blogging about adult titles…and you would be correct in that assessment. However, are we adults not all reading role models for the children and teens in our lives? Curiosity is not a juvenile thing that we put away when we become grownups. It is important that we all set a positive example for the next generation. We adults shall read late into the night. We adults shall continue to stretch our minds, and learn about our world. And we adults will show our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and young neighbors that learning about the world – as a dilettante or as a professional – is a worthwhile endeavor at any age!