BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Bird Talk ...

This was one of those Dollar Store finds … I'd been up at the “new” one (I discovered that there was one straight up the Red Line which didn't involve changing trains) picking up a few things when I found they'd gotten in a new batch of books, and I scored $112 worth (at cover price) for just $5 … gotta love that!

This sort of jumped out at me, as I've been a parakeet owner much of my life (we currently have two: Shadow and Aqua - see pic at right), and the general thesis of Jenny Gardiner's Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me both sounded like a “light read” and something that might give some perspective on Aqua, our always-hostile older bird. Of course, there's a significant difference between domestically-bred parakeets and a wild-captured bird like Gardiner's African Grey parrot, Graycie, but both seemed to share a mean streak (made less bloody at our house by the relative smallness of Aqua's beak muscles!).

Again, what I had anticipated jumping into Winging It was a light bird-centered collection of whacky stories about the author's learning to deal with this ill-tempered parrot. What I didn't expect was this was more of a personal reminiscence of her whole life, in which Graycie, while certainly being an on-going theme, was only one element in a house-full of pets (pretty much all of which, not being as long-living as a parrot, die at one point or another), a work-from-home husband, and three kids who go from birth through college in the telling.

The parts of the book that I found very uncomfortable were the ones where her kids had various serious health issues, and she takes up whole chapters on the subject. Needless to say, were I have to gone into this expecting an autobiography these elements wouldn't have stuck out like they did, but having thought this to be a “bird book”, they were unwelcome (to the author, too, I suppose) sidetracks from the stuff that got me to pick it up and leap over dozens of other books in the “to be read” pile.

I also had some serious “verklempt” moments reading this. As a father with kids fast approaching college age, much of the reflection that Gardiner does about how quickly this all flies by, leaving one only the memories (or, in her case, a bird still repeating phrases from the children's early years), hit me hard … sort of counter-acting the “light reading” aspects I'd looked for in this.

I know it's unfair to judge a book on what I had thought or hoped it was going to be, rather than what the author meant it to be (although, in my defense, it would be hard to guess that the book was more a family memoir than a book about raising a parrot from the dust jacket!), but I do wish there was more like this passage in place of the various “parental challenges” parts of the book:
On a recent night she wasn't content with simply plinking. Instead she grew silent. And then I heard he say out loud, “Jenny!” … The sound came from an unfamiliar quadrant of the room. We are all so used to her voice coming at us from the corner in which she resides that it's jarring to hear it from anywhere else. I got up to search and found her in her favorite spot, by the parrot cabinet. She was standing in front of the cabinet, trying to open it up. For fun, because I had the time to actually supervise her, I decided to open the cabinet and let her have at it. So for a good forty minutes she happily hung out, pulling down little wooden blocks and toys and an old sock stuffed with pieces of wood and all the while talking, talking, talking.
I suppose I also would have liked some additional expository material about African Grey parrots in general. There are bits and pieces woven through the narrative (coming in as the author found out about them), but it would have been interesting to have had some block elements with data on how long-lived parrots can be, how they are remarkable mimics (and the things Graycie says are pretty amazing), and maybe even some pictures (the only one of the bird here is on the cover … the other pic up there in this review is a snapshot of my parakeets!).

I want to say the book is sad, but I guess it's just a sentimental look back on the author's family over a quarter century, much of which is spent “battling” with a particularly cranky (and early on, accident-prone) bird. There's no big pay-off at the end … no happy bird-human détente … just a reaching of the present, and, like closing a photo album, a stop (and I just now took a look at the Amazon reviews, and I see a lot of other folks found this more sad that funny).

Winging It is only a couple of years old, and the on-line guys still have it. You can, however, pick up a “like new” copy for a penny (plus shipping) from the used vendors, and if you scurry out to your local Dollar Tree you might be able to find a copy there (I just got this last Friday, and they had several copies on the shelf). This wasn't the book I was hoping to read, but if a family memoir's your thing, this might be of interest.

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Tags: book review
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