Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Forks and Feathers

Two recent nonfiction reads that were excellent and very enjoyable.

Feathers cover


The Thing With Feathers by Noah Strycker
One of the best books on birds I’ve read in a long time is a series of essays on various species, some of which are not well known, such as the fairy wrens of Australia and New Zealand. Stryker’s extensive experiences in the field lead to some great anecdotes, such as penguins untying his shoe strings in Antarctica. And each chapter is launched with a superb pen & ink illustration done by the author.
Part of the subtitle is about what bird behavior “…reveals about being human”, which I realize is a hook for more casual bird watchers, but it was interesting seeing the depth the author went to in posing and answering questions, such as whether parrots are just fabulous mimics, or if they are responding to music on another level.Other chapters are on flock mentality in starlings, whether turkey vultures find their meals by sight or smell and the artiness of nest constructions of bowerbirds. This is not to say this book is a dense treatise, it definitely isn’t, but there is enough weighty observations to attract birders of all levels of seriousness. Of course, it can also be a good source for fun facts, such as the Aztecs naming a god of war after hummingbirds. In any case, you’ll not only learn a lot, but also enjoy the commentary on bird activities.
Riverhead Books 2014 288 pp. ISBN 978-1-59448-635-7

Fork book
Consider the Fork
by Bee Wilson
This was a fascinating history of the utensils that we use to cook and eat. Not just the expected silverware and kitchen tools, but also how habitat affects what people eat, such as China and the Middle East where a lack of trees for fuel meant learning to cook differently than in Europe, with it’s vast forests. It was fun tracing the evolution of say, table knives over the centuries, but also learning about gadgets that I didn’t even know existed, because the foods they were used for are no longer trendy. The author has a chatty style, where she passes along her enthusiasm for the subjects onto her reader and she weaves vast tracts of history and sociology into her accounts with a down to earth liveliness that keeps the reader’s interest through the book, even when getting slightly technical about how some items worked. You don’t need to like to cook to enjoy this book, but I guarantee you won’t look at your kitchen in the same way afterwards.
Basic Books 2012 352 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0465021765

2 comments on “Forks and Feathers

  1. Hilary
    June 5, 2015

    A bit of a contrast to the bird book I reviewed on Monday, Jackie! How clever that you chose it this week. Thanks for these two reviews – both books sound like excellent, original good reads.

  2. Kae
    June 10, 2015

    Jackie, I LOVE the combination you chose to review! These books are definitely up my alley, as I love the bird trivia and the culinary history. I’d never heard of either book, but now I want to read them both. Thanks!!!

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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