I found The Bedside Book of Birds to be surprisingly strange, dark, and not an especially light-hearted, soothing read at bedtime. It is a very eclectic collection of short excerpts, poetry, essays, legends, folklore, etc. on birds or perhaps only mentioning birds, gathered into loose themes such as bird companions, sinister birds, how we use birds, and so forth. Each section is introduced by editor Graeme Gibson, a well-known Canadian author who is also into birds. The entire volume is lavishly illustrated with a wide variety of bird images from throughout history (the best part of the book, in my opinion).
The majority of the selections come from very old texts. I found most of them just downright strange. Whatever the theme of the chapter, the passages seemed to dwell on the exploitation or killing of birds. Even a selection in the chapter Some Blessed Hope, entitled “The Pigeon and the Parakeet”, was a love story that involved the offing of a couple’s beloved birds in some sort of self-sacrificing demonstration of desire. Hey, I’m a realist. I know the world can be a gloomy, scary place. And I don’t need all of my stories to have happy endings. But really, I don’t want my reading-for-pleasure to include a story by Frank Kafka about a man being eaten alive by a vulture, which ends up dying by drowning in the man’s blood after thrusting its beak “through my mouth, deep into me.” Nighty-night! Sweet dreams!
A review by The Guardian categorizes some of the writings as “whimsical,” which to me seems way off-base. But the review is correct in noting that the book “…is aimed mainly at littérateurs with a curiosity for birds, rather than birdwatchers with an interest in literature.” Phew, guess that let’s me off the hook a bit, since I didn’t really “get it.” Nor did the reviewer at Fatbirder, who said, “It’s a bit like one of those give-away CD compilations that falls out of your Sunday paper… there are the headline songs you just love, the familiar songs you never much liked and a whole load of others you have never heard of and never want to hear again.”
If you have a taste for obscure literature, the macabre, or just want a bird book that is unlike all others, The Bedside Book of Birds should be right up your alley.