After being in the midst of two substantial books, I’ve finished “Saga Land” (review tomorrow) and decided to pick off some Novellas in November for my upstairs reading. I’d already decided this would be my first, both because it looked cheerful and because NovNov is doing nonfiction this week (I’m not sticking to their categories faithfully but it seemed polite to try). So a cheerful work of short nonfiction – and also a book off my TBR Challenge 2021-2022!

I bought this in my Book Token Splurge this year, when I collect up my book tokens from Christmas and my January birthday, times I also acquire books, and spend them on a big mid-year treat. It’s the first of those books I’ve read (unsurprisingly, as that’s quite recent in my TBR), but there are two more of that set on my Novellas in November pile.

Nick Hunt with photos by Tim Mitchell – “The Parakeeting of London”

(24 June 2021 – bought with Christmas/Birthday book tokens)

Despite their colour, their numbers, their noise, the process went largely unobserved. That is perhaps one of their oddest and most impressive qualities: they pas from rarity to ubiquity in an astoundingly short space of time. People go from never having seen them – or even never having believed in them – to vaguely assuming they have always been part of the urban landscape. They are like gentrification itself. First they are nowhere, then they are everywhere. (p. 13)

What a charming book this is! Eschewing (most) traditional scientific and ornithological methods, taking on instead what they call “gonzo ornithology”, Hunt and Mitchell roam the parks and cemeteries of London, talking to ordinary (and not so ordinary) people about their thoughts on parakeets, also examining the main origin myths of the birds (and finding no evidence for any of them).

We learn about the spread of parakeets across London (and Europe), the fact that they are a bird that lives as far into the cold lands as the Himalayas, hence not being bothered by our winters, and about their flyways, the paths the birds routinely take between feeding and roosting spots. When people talk about them, it’s not just about parakeets, but they open up about travel, belonging and immigration (in good and bad ways). And, while they spot them from a distance (once, hilariously, just as someone is telling them the parakeets have all gone for the area), they eventually get to see them up close.

The main section of the short book alternates myths, facts and chats, with portraits of the interviewees or, if those are not permitted, scene-setting images. The author bios pleasingly have a photo of each, parakeet on apple in hand. While Hunt writes the main text, there are some notes on the photography methodology by Mitchell in the back, and last of all, there are some reproductions of postcards that people sent in to them (with more on the project website). A super little book that would be a great gift for the bird or nature lover, London person or psychogeographer in your life.

The book is published by a micro indie press, Paradise Road.

They’re not just in London – here’s one of the lovely parakeets in my local park in Birmingham!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 10/85 ā€“ 75 to go – and it was Book 4 in my Novellas in November challenge and part of Nonfiction November!