An Exhilaration of Wings: The Literature of Birdwatching

by Kevin Paul


December 2 - December 8, 1999

Culture Shock
Artsy-fartsy news, views and spews.

Performance Review
Merry Christmas, 6457
Harold Pinter's The Hothouse at the Vortex Theatre

Art Pics
Third Annual Silent Art Auction at the Harwood

Art Pics
Mariachi Christmas at Popejoy Hall

Art Pics
Becoming Birds & Fish at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds

Book Review
ReJoyce
Edna O'Brien's James Joyce

Speed Reader
Devil's Hatband
by Daniel Aragón y Ulibarrí

Speed Reader
Jumping the Green
by Leslie Schwartz

Speed Reader
History of Paradise
by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Arts and Literature Calendar
See, we told you art isn't a dead medium

Speed Reader
(November 25, 1999)

Speed Reader
(November 25, 1999)

Speed Reader
(November 18, 1999)



An Exhilaration of Wings: The Literature of Birdwatching
edited by Jen Hill (Viking, hardcover, $25.95)

All right, Alibi readers. All of us who are closet birdwatchers, come out loud and proud! In fact, I suggest we pack a picnic lunch and our field glasses this weekend and head down to Bosque del Apache for some world class birding. Oh, and let's be sure to bring a copy of An Exhilaration of Wings for the ride.

This superb collection of fragments and excerpts is drawn mainly from British and American birding literature of the last 250 years (thereby omitting such non-Western classics as Faruddin al-Attar's fascinating allegory, Conference of the Birds). Editor Jen Hill has provided an informative introductory essay on the history of the genre. Like birdwatching itself, birding literature has long been the domain of amateurs. But those amateurs have produced enough quality writing to inspire the likes of Wordsworth, Thoreau and Emerson to make their own contributions.

This book is smartly organized by themes such as "Migration," "Nests" and "Birdsong." It makes for excellent browsing. The collection even provides some useful anecdotes on getting started as a birdwatcher. The chapter entitled "Extinction" makes for rather painful reading when one realizes that we've been watching species disappear for centuries. The dedicated birder can take vicarious pleasure in the rare sightings of others, and the literature lover will find charming poetic descriptions: "Like some people, [the catbird] seems to give up his time to the pleasure of hearing himself talk. ... With lazy self-indulgence he sits by the hour with relaxed muscles, and listlessly drooping wings and tail. If he were a young man you feel confident he would sit in shirtsleeves at home and go on the street without a collar." (Florence Merriam, Birds Through an Opera Glass, 1889)

My only complaint is that the book has surprisingly few illustrations. Nonetheless, it will make a fine addition to the library of any birder or admirer of nature writing.


feature | news | film | music | art | food | comics last week | home | next page


Weekly Wire 1996-99 Weekly Alibi