This is a brilliant book – it goes straight into my shortlist of Books of the Year for this blog. Any book that starts with the author eating snake and quaffing beer in Madagascar is a bit special.
The author states that he is obsessed by Swifts, but actually, if he is, he hides it well in these pages because although this is a book about Swifts, in it the author visits many countries that Swifts fly over too, and his observations of those countries, the people he talks to and his own thoughts about a wide variety of issues make the book riveting and show that he is interested in many things. I read it quickly once I picked it up and very much enjoyed it. It didn’t make me laugh out loud but it certainly brought a smile to my lips several times.
This is a fairly small book with about 150 smallish pages of text and then another 20 pages of references and acknowledgements but it is intense, in that every page has arresting observations and thoughts. I felt no temptation whatsoever to skip a few pages, I wanted to read every word, and I did.
There is only so much that one can tell the reader about Swifts. It’s a bird that travels long distances, spends much of its life on the wing, eats aerial insects and nests mostly in buildings – those are the basics, and every book about Swifts will cover those in different ways. But the value added in this book is very high because of the freshness of the approach, the perspectives on Swifts and on life and on what the author thinks about a variety of issues.
The jacket illustration is by Jonathan Pomroy – it’s pretty much perfect to capture the bird and the feel of the book – 9/10. in the acknowledgements the author says he chose Pomroy because of his skill and says that if his book is judged by its cover then he’ll be pleased – nice touch! The in-book illustrations are by the same artist and are a great addition to the text – real adornments.
I have reviewed two good books about Swifts today; do I have a preference? I do, but it’s a personal preference and you might not agree with it, but I’d pick this book over Sarah Gibson’s because the text is quirkier, the cover price is slightly cheaper and Pomroy’s artwork is delightful. But you can’t have too many good books about Swifts and as well as these two remember the classic Swifts in a Tower by David Lack which was reissued recently – see my review here.
The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster is published by Little Toller Books.