November 2007

Arts & Letters

‘Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird’ by Andrew D Blechman

By Sean Dooley

With an author name straight out of Mad magazine an almost Pythonesque subtitle, this paean to pigeons may at first seem the stuff of some elaborate joke: as if somebody could seriously devote over 200 pages to those ‘rats with wings’! But this is no dry treatise for the spotty anorak-wearer. In the tradition of histories of salt, cod and the sextant, Blechman’s book takes a commonplace and seemingly unremarkable thing and provides an insight into the effects it has had on our lives.

The placid nature, prolific breeding capacity and innate homing instincts of the pigeon, one of the first animals to be domesticated, have led to one of the most symbiotic of all our relationships with the natural world. But despite its valiant attempts to lionise the bird - pigeon as peace symbol, as war hero, as reliable source of protein - where this book really comes alive is in its portrayal of the human side of the relationship.

Blechman manages to infiltrate the obsessive world of those who still revere the pigeon. And what a kooky bunch they are: foul-mouthed working-class pigeon racers from Brooklyn who live with their mothers; English pigeon fanciers pulled from an Allan Bennett play who would rather clean the shit from a pigeon loft than spend a minute with their neglected families; crazy bag-ladies blowing their social-security cheques on birdseed to feed already overstuffed New York pigeons. Even the infamous pugilist, rapist and ear-biter Mike Tyson turns out to have a very soft spot for the birds.

But such folk are definitely in the minority. If familiarity breeds contempt, then in the case of the pigeon ubiquity clearly engenders outright revulsion. This is where the book transcends mere quirkiness, as Blechman suggests that we despise the pigeon because of its very success - a success that has arisen due to the profligate waste of modern society. Perhaps we project our self-loathing at our own excesses onto these birds. Perhaps when all is said and done, we just don’t like to share anything with anyone, pigeons included.

Cover: November 2007

November 2007

From the front page

2009 forever

Blame the Coalition, not the Greens, for Australia’s decade of climate dysfunction

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Redmond Barry & Edward Kelly

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Checkmate

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Lazarus taxa

‘Mini Shots’ 1–9 by various authors


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Jia Tolentino

Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

Image of Archie Roach

A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

Image from ‘The Irishman’

Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre


More in Noted

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Cover of ‘The Man Who Saw Everything’

‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce

Blockade tactics

Inside the 2019 IMARC protests


×
×