Book Review: The Bedtime Bird Book by Graeme Gibson

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The Bedtime Book of Birds was first published in 2005, but its enduring appeal is such that The Bedside Book of Birds continues in new editions beyond the author’s death. In the introduction, Graeme Gibson says he got to the birds late. You wouldn’t know. Perhaps making up for lost years, he invested a lot of effort, imagination and time to put together material for this unique volume. The result is an enriching collection organized in nine chapters under themes as broad as the birds observed and recorded (Oh, The Birds…), the tales and parables (Death Comes as a Rooster), the birds that we exploit (A Bird In The Hand) and the birds and the nostalgic human soul (Some Blessed Hope).

From Pliny the Elder to Peter Matthiessen to Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Franz Kafka and Patrick Leigh Fermor, and sprinkled with the author’s material, there is writing to stimulate every mind – discovery, exploration, contemplation, philosophy, poetry, humor, religion and more. Unsurprisingly due to their cultural associations, some birds – albatrosses, raptors and crows, for example – are more prevalent than others, and many are also depicted in reproductions of art or avian artifacts, ranging from paintings to ‘Audubon and Keulemans to Aztec Images. ceramics, Maori kites and Ghanaian sculpture.

The latest edition of this eclectic collection has a new preface from Margaret Atwood, the author’s partner for over 45 years. She reveals there that he was surprised by the success of the book, but that he quickly gave up the benefits: “the birds had been a gift to him, and the gifts must be reciprocated.” Both are well-known conservationists, championing BirdLife’s work in Canada and abroad and, among others, co-chairs of the Rare Bird Club.

It seems appropriate that this latest edition will be released ahead of BirdLife’s 2021-2022 launch of the Graeme Gibson Scholarship. In addition to honoring his love for birds and conservation, this new initiative is designed to enable a diversity of new leaders across the association’s expanding network to meet the challenges of a changing and precarious world – whatever something that Graeme Gibson, who admitted to having “the zeal of a convert”, would surely have approved.

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