Originally published in 2005, now reissued in hardback with a new foreword by Margaret Atwood.
In this stunning assemblage of words and images, novelist and avid birdwatcher Graeme Gibson has crafted an extraordinary tribute to the venerable relationship between humans and birds.
Birds have ever been the symbols of our highest aspirations. As divine messengers, symbols of our yearning for the heavens, or avatars of glorious song and colour, they have stirred our imaginations from the moment we first looked into the sky. Whether as the Christian dove, or Quetzalcoatl – the Aztec Plumed Serpent – or in Plato's vision of the human soul growing wings and feathers, religion and philosophy have looked to birds as representatives of our better selves – that part of us not bound to the earth.
With the passion of a birdwatcher and hoarder of words, Gibson has spent fifteen years collecting the literary and artistic forms our affinity for birds has taken over the centuries. Birds appear again and again in mythology and folk tales, and in literature by writers as diverse as Ovid, Thomas Hardy, Kafka, Thoreau and T.S. Eliot. They've been omens, allegories, disguises and guides; they've been worshipped, eaten, feared and loved. Nor does Gibson forget the fascination they hold for science, as the Galapagos finches did for Darwin. Birds figure charmingly and tellingly in the work of such nature writers as Gilbert White, Peter Matthiessen, Farley Mowat and Barry Lopez.
Gorgeously illustrated, woven from centuries of human response to the delights of the feathered tribes, The Bedside Book of Birds is for anyone who is aware of birds, and for everyone who is intrigued by the artistic forms that humanity has created to represent its soul.
Graeme Gibson is the acclaimed author of Five Legs, Perpetual Motion and Gentleman Death. He is a past president of PEN Canada and the recipient of both the Harbourfront Festival Prize and the Toronto Arts Award, and is a member of the Order of Canada. He has been a council member of World Wildlife Fund Canada, and is chairman of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Gibson lives in Toronto with his spouse of thirty-five years, writer Margaret Atwood.
– A Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year
"The most compulsively readable of a clutch of bird-themed books out this autumn. Taking in everything from classic nature-writing to poetry via folklore and Mayan creation myths, The Bedside Book Of Birds is by no means for 'twitchers' only."
– Daily Mail (London)
"The perfect book for armchair ornithologists with an eye for words as well as feathers."
– The Daily Telegraph (London)
"A wonderful collection of poetry and prose, folk tales and myths, which pay tribute to our feathered friend [...] A perfect Christmas present, even for non-anoraks."
– Mail on Sunday (UK)
"Anyone who has watched birds, studied them, given them the least attention, will find this a treat. It is a compilation of writings that celebrate themany ways people have engaged with birds – made companions of them, mythologised them, hunted and eaten them. There's an account of a mocking thrush drinking from Charles Darwin's hand on the voyage of the Beagle, and of a woman in Ohio who incubated 50 hens' eggs by laying them alongside the body of her dying, fevered husband. This book is well worth buying for the illustrations alone."
– New Scientist
"The beauty of the writing and the illustrations contained in The Bedside Book of Birds is matched by the beauty of the physical book itself. Great pains have been taken by the author and the publisher to make this book a work of art, and they have succeeded marvellously. [...] The most spectacular bird book of the year. [...] An astoundingly beautiful book [...] featur[ing] some of the most sublime writings to be found on the subject."
– The Globe and Mail
"The Bedside Book of Birds is a superb gift, a compulsive must-have, for the bird-lover, the storyteller, and the anthropologist in the family. As a collection it is exemplary of how fascination can re-order the world. Readers will be thinking feathered thoughts for days and they will be happier. [...] This book in the hand is worth two on the shelf."
– The Calgary Herald
"A beautiful volume, sumptiously illustrated."
– The Vancouver Sun
"[Gibson]'s book is a stunner. The wealth of imagery and the range of intelligence are grand, the kinds of relationships with birds he sets out nearly bewildering [...] It's what I'll take to bed tonight to incite my dreams."
– Barry Lopez
"Gibson's own graceful and erudite essays tell of the pleasure, fear, confusion, or hope that birds inspire, and their imperiled place in nature."
– The Oprah Magazine
"Gibson's preambles are as satisfying as the texts and accompanying illustrations."
– Library Journal