If you're If you're a writer, you should definitely check out Fruitflesh, by Gayle Brandeis. It's a thoughtful guide to writing, specifically for women. With fruit meditations!
Anyway, Gayle is also a novelist and fellow member of the GCC, and The Book of Dead Birds won the Barbara Kingsolver Bellwether prize when it first came out in 2002. Now it's in paperback -- and Toni Morrison (Toni Morrison!!!!!!) said the novel "has an edgy beauty that enhances perfectly the seriousness of its contents."
The Book of Dead Birds centers on a young woman, Ava, whose mother was a prostitute in Korea who married a white American soldier, only to be abandoned by him in the States when she gave birth to a baby with dark skin. Ava tries to come to terms with her mother's difficult past while finding herself and volunteering to help environmental activists save thousands of birds poisoned by agricultural runoff.
Gayle, magically clever woman that she is, wrote us BIRDfriend List instead of a boyfriend list! That zebra finch is cuter than pretty much any guy I've ever met, that's for sure.
Anyway, it's lovely reading, and gives you an idea of her gently humorous, thought-provoking style.
The Birdfriend List
by Gayle Brandeis
I've had crushes on plenty of birds. Not romantic crushes—I haven't wanted to kiss a bird, or marry one. I'm not that much of a freak. But certain birds have made my heart soar. Here are a few:
1. The myna bird at Tally Ho restaurant in Evanston, IL. I met this bird when I was in utero. My pregnant mom was standing in the lobby of the restaurant when the bird, in a cage by the hostess stand, said to her "I know what's in there!" And it was me! That same bird liked to flirt with my dad. It would say "Hi there" in a very throaty voice that always turned my dad's head.
2. The little yellow bird that used to sit on the balcony railing of our fifth floor apartment when I was a girl. I never found out what sort of bird it was—an oriole, maybe?—but I was always excited to see it there. I was sure it came just to visit me.
3. The baby chicks in the incubator at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. That and the coal mine were my two favorites exhibits at the museum. I could stand in front of that incubator for hours, watching a hole form in an egg shell, watching a beak emerge, watching the wet bird force its way out. Another incubator was full of chicks who had dried off, puffballs of yellow. I wanted to touch them so badly.
4. Zebra finches, the only pet birds I've ever had (before I found out I'm allergic to feathers.) We bought a pair when I was 10, and named them Romeo and Juliet. Then Romeo laid an egg inside their bamboo cage, and we re-named them Romiette and Julio. I loved the birds, and was so excited to see their little blue eggs. Their story ended in tragedy, just like the Shakespeare play, though--they pecked their babies to death. It was very traumatic (as crushes often can be).
5. Robin red breasts. My parents told me that robin red breasts were the first sign of spring. I was always excited to see them hopping around in the dwindling snow.
6. The birds who have used my dad for target practice. My dad must have a bullseye on his head. Birds love to poop on him; they seem to have a real sense of humor. It has provided hours of entertainment (especially when we were at Disneyworld, and he thought someone had sprayed hot mustard all over him.) Birds have it in for my dad; he's also been chased by a turkey. My son seems to have inherited the bullseye; he has been the target of several droppings already.
7. Crows. The biker boys of the bird world. I was always a little scared of them, especially after I read a story about how they could be a sign of death, but I've always felt drawn to them, too. West Nile Virus wiped out our local crow population a couple of years ago, and I missed them tremendously. I'm very glad to see their slow return.
8. Red tailed hawks. Birds of prey are plentiful in Southern California, but it's always a thrill to see them spreading their wings over the freeways.
9. Pelicans. Ever since writing The Book of Dead Birds, which features a lot of pelicans, I've had very warm, almost maternal, feelings for the strange pouched birds. We live down the street from a park with a small man made lake; for the last couple of years, pelicans have been making it their winter home, and it's such a delight to be their neighbors. I also have crushes on the Canada geese and snowy egrets that hang out in the park, too. The ducks are more like good friends than crushes.
10. The wild parrots on our street. Six parrots have moved into a redwood tree down the block. It is such a rush to see a flash of green over my head. They make me feel wild, myself, and isn't that what a good crush should do?
P.S. Here is Gayle's blog!