Monday, December 22, 2014

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual: Renewing the World's Bird Supply Since 2031 by Kate Samworth

Funny and sad and horrifying. Kate Samworth's Aviary Wonders Inc. is one of the most confounding books that I've ever read. It's a beautifully illustrated picture book that's styled as a future catalog of robot birds made from mix-and-match parts. The re-engineered dodo from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series comes to mind.

"Whether you are looking for a companion, want to make something beautiful, or just want to listen to birdsong, we'll supply everything you need to build your own bird."

The brief book trailer below will give you a feel for Samworth's sly wit.

There are pages of beaks, bodies, wings and so on, which showcase the diversity of avian forms found in nature. Each page contains valid natural history information about birds. For example, that tails are used for brakes, balance, steering and display; that wing shape affects flying style; and "the Moa was large, flightless--and tasty! The last of the species was eaten in the fifteenth century."

The two-page spread about beaks divides them into four types: carnivores, for birds of prey; insectivores, for perchers, swimmers, and waders; herbivores, best for perchers; and piscivores, for waders and swimmers. "Choose beak according to diet."

A few of the beaks from Aviary Wonders by Kate Samworth (detail)
As seen in the detail above, while the beak shapes are accurate, the colours and patterns are outrageously lurid. They are so obviously unnatural that the overall effect is disturbing. 

Another creepy aspect is the breezy manner in which information about extinction is shared: "Passenger Pigeon. Imagine! These birds once travelled in flocks a mile wide and 300 miles long! The last died in 1914." So there's this uneasy mix of tragedy, hucksterism and humour. "100% Indian silk feathers don't fray with age like natural feathers" almost made me weep with the (unstated) reminder of species that have been made extinct because their feathers were used to decorate hats. 

Aviary Wonders is an important, thought-provoking book for readers of all ages.

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