Magnificent Chookens (AKA How Far Would You Go To Obtain A Book?)
by Fiona Crawford - May 19th, 2013
I waited for months in breathless, is-it-here-yet anticipation for a rerelease of The Magnificent Chicken: Portraits of the Fairest Fowl, a book about chickens (hereafter referred to as ‘chookens’).
Those who know me know I have a bit of a thing for chookens and, coincidentally, Ira Glass (the latter wrote a special foreword to the book, which was first published in 2001).
If I hadn’t been sold on a book with stellar photographs of unusual chookens, I’d have been sold on such a book that contained Glass’ seal (and words) of approval.
I did an H&R Block-ilk fist pump when I was notified that the book had been released and shipped. Then I waited interminable weeks, practically shaking down the postie as he delivered not my book, but misinformed, blatantly incorrect and xenophobic LNP propaganda.
I promptly wrote that asylum seeking by boat isn’t illegal—my pen didn’t work so well on the waxed card and my handwriting doesn’t work so well in general—and returned that tree-wasting rubbish to its sender (see picture, right).
Despairing and in no small way aware of the irony that of all the books delivered to my house regularly, this was the book that hadn’t arrived, I emailed Boomerang Books to ask if they could possibly trace my book’s delivery.
Then, some 12 hours later, when I was on my way back in the dark from a knee-rehabbing walk, I glanced into my neighbour’s yard. Propped against a window that is in no way near a gate or letterbox, and in a part of the yard that is both difficult to get to and that would mean no one would like stumble across something, was a package that looked distinctly Boomerang Book-ish. Better yet, it looked about the size I’d have expected my chooken book to be.
I went round to my neighbour’s front door (my building is on a corner, which confuses some people, and the entrances are on the side not near the yard in question), but he or she wasn’t home (they were brand newly moved in and I hadn’t yet met them).
I could have returned in daylight, but my my-precious obsession with what I was sure was my book had me legging it over a tall fence and into a brushy garden in the dark and on a recently-operated-on knee.
The part of the fence I grabbed to steady my climb turned out to be rather wonky and I landed heavily in the garden, not-so-vaguely worried I would be injured, unable to climb back over, and arrested as an intruder—‘I was just checking if it was my book, officer’ sounds slightly silly even to me.
Long story short, it was my book, although how and why it had been delivered there still escapes me. I made it back over the fence ungainlyly and with my crotch covered in fence dirt, and legged it back to my property.
The Magnificent Chicken is indeed magnificent, and I’ve spent many an hour poring over the pictures and text. The reason the book was (and is) so ground breaking is that author Tamara Staples shows us rare breeds of chookens in glamorous ways we’ve never seen before (did I mention it’s another Chronicle Books effort?). The chookens are photographed against complementary textured backgrounds, and the images capture their regal and distinctive traits.
Glass’ essay examines what happens when you try to treat a chicken as you would a human for a photo shoot.
It incorporates the This American Life interview he conducted with Staples and contains that quintessentially familiar but not too familiar storytelling style and voice. It demonstrates the level of difficulty and precision required to photograph chickens so beautifully.
I’ll admit that chicken shows don’t sit well with me (and that’s what these fancy chookens are bred for). But if this book helps people come to appreciate and relate to chookens more than something they eat, then I’m marginally more ok with it.
I am grateful that this book has introduced me to more breeds than I knew existed, and there are a bunch of chookens to whom I can relate. Take the Bearded Buff Laced Polish Large Fowl Cock, with its Grumpy Cat-style facial expression and wayward hair or the awkward-looking Silver Sebright Bantam Cockerel.
I feel a lot like both the Self Blue Belgian Bearded D’Anvers Cockerel and the Bearded Black Silkie Bantam Hen in this cold weather, and a lot like the Bearded Buff Laced Polish Frizzle Bantam Hen year round. And yes, this book has strengthened my Operation Chooken resolve (that is, to find a way to have chookens at my place). Watch this space.