Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pg. 69: "Pigeons"

Some days you're the pigeon. Some days you're the statue.

So opens the introduction to Andrew D. Blechman's new book, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird.

How well does the "page 69 test" work for Pigeons? Here's what Andrew reported:
The bad news is that there’s nothing sexual about my page 69. But as anyone who grew up on Judy Bloom knows, the “good stuff” is always about two-thirds through the book anyway. (I call it the Forever rule).

The good news is that page 69 is very representative of my book. It’s near the end of the chapter where I visit a pigeon beauty pageant. Yes, you heard right—a pigeon beauty pageant. A tough old bird (tee hee hee) who resembles a mafia don walks up to the podium and tearfully accepts a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to pigeon breeding.

These are just the sort of everyday eccentrics who populate the world of pigeon obsession, and hence, my book. Which is what gets me up in the morning: meeting and chronicling offbeat characters and unusual subcultures. I’m like a tour guide taking visitors on a trip to the secret garden that we all know must exist but can’t find even though it’s right in front of us.

The world of pigeons is that place. This book took me from the Queen of England (herself a pigeon fancier) to a titty-bar in Phoenix in search of Mike Tyson (another pigeon fanatic). In between, I met with a secretive pro-pigeon underground that somehow resembled the SLA (of Patty Hearst fame, minus the weapons) and a rural gun club where I was lectured on the evils of liberal elitism, black people, and “animalists” (animal advocates). And this, from the folks that shoot thousands of pigeons in a morning and leave them to die slowly on the lawn.

Meanwhile, the bird is never far from the fray. Pigeons have an unparalleled history with us (10,000 years worth) and athletic abilities that would make an Olympian weep. But they also somehow act as a foil of human nature, bringing out the very best in us, and the very worst.

But page 70 is better….
Many thanks to Andrew for the input.

To read an excerpt from Pigeons, click here.

Among the praise for Pigeons:
"A great read and lots of fun."

"Few of us who live in cities, besieged by flights of what we like to call winged rats, can rightly be described as philoperisterons. But King George the Fifth of England was. So was Charles Darwin. Julius Reuter was too, though for purely commercial reasons. And so also, and for which we should all be thankful, is Andrew Blechman, writer. Mr. Blechman positively loves pigeons--but as graceful and ancient grey doves, not as either targets or as food. In this breezy, quirky, endlessly entertaining book, he tells us just why--and explains why philoperisteronicism is, generally speaking, a Good Thing."
-- Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and The Madman

[T]he story of "Pigeons" is, ultimately, one of how people respond to the bird. In the best sense, Blechman's book reads like a series of entertaining, eye-opening magazine pieces held together by the sinews, feathers and strong, hollow bones of the rock dove. Like so many of the surprisingly enthralling books written in recent years about one discrete, at-first-glance vapid topic -- Mark Kurlansky's "Cod," Charles Seife's "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea," and innumerable others -- "Pigeons" manages to illuminate not merely the ostensible subject of the book, but also something of the endearing, repellent, heroic and dastardly nature of that most bizarre of breeds, Homo sapiens."
-- Ben Cosgrove, Salon

“I’ve been as guilty as anybody of looking down on the lowly Rock Dove. But Andrew Blechman’s Pigeons woke me up. Informative and well-written, if anybody can read his book and still harbor contempt for pigeons, I have to wonder if there is hope for human beings.”
-- Mark Bittner, author of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Click here to listen to KQED's interview with Andrew. There is another interview at NHPR.

What do Julius Reuters, Charles Darwin, Picasso, and B.F. Skinner have to do with pigeons? Click here to find out.

Learn more about pigeons via these links.

Coincidentally, pigeon-eccentrics also appear on page 69 of Shari Caudron's Who Are You People?

Previous "page 69 tests":
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue