Big book, tiny topic - Page 2

Some eccentric notes on a favorite tactic of the publishing industry

Ultimately, Citrus does have the passion — if not always the juice — of a labor of love, even when its author favors the kind of obvious symbolism found in this sentence.

In comparison, Pigeons author Blechman is a storyteller who has a way with a hilarious turn of phrase. He writes of "backyard geneticists" who create birds "more akin to a Dresden figurine than a child of nature," notes that the pigeon "has been prized as a source of companionship (and protein)," and confesses his fondness for the Frillback, a breed with feathers that look like they "were dipped in Jheri Curl." Over the course of one winter, he meets as many breeds of pigeon obsessives as he does pigeons. The wildest marriage might be between Parlor Rollers and their owners. Parlor Rollers somersault backward up to 600 feet in a single effort, a display that Blechman deems "the avian equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder." When Blechman asks one owner why the birds do what they do, the man replies, "Because they're retarded, that's why."

Actually, Pigeons makes a strong case for recognizing and respecting the oft-abused pigeon, a case drawn from no less a source than Charles Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species. Blechman's book contains some disturbing passages (especially a foray into a Pennsylvania town that made bird slaughter into an annual holiday replete with teen boys delivering body slams) and no shortage of funny adventures. By the end, it transformed the way I view pigeons. Though I'm a vampire for blood oranges and I abuse toothpicks like an addict smokes cigarettes, I'm afraid the other two books didn't have quite the same impact.

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