Tag Archives: funny

Avian Matters: Why Must Ravens Be Conspiring to Be Unkind?

Samuel Fanous & Thomas BewickI’m starting a new series! About feathered folks! And not of the tarred & feathered variety, either!* To start off, we’re going to be exploring a bit the collective nouns we use for birds, which range from charming and witty to downright confusing.

Do ravens come in unkindnesses or conspiracies? And why are we so biased against the nature of ravens, such that the sight of a group of them inspires either conspiracy or unkindness, or both? While this book won’t answer either of those questions – Fanous never addresses an unkindness of ravens, for example – it’s not quite the point of this delightful volume. I get the feeling that differences in collective nouns for different birds might be due in part to the fact that these collective nouns are not standardized, and are thus subject to the natural ebb and flow of the English language. Of course, there are the ones that enjoy pretty widespread use, such as a murmuration of starlings, or a murder of crows. Then there are the ones you might not have heard of before, that I’m pretty sure aren’t quite as ubiquitous: a conspiracy of ravens, for one (v.s. an unkindness), or a dropping of pigeons (I get the feeling someone got pigeon droppings on them after a group of pigeons flew overhead and coined this collective noun). Some are absolutely charming – a museum of waxwings is one such example, along with an invisibility of ptarmigans – while others incomprehensible – like how a group of herons is called a posse, but a flock of egrets is called a heronry. And then there’s the flock of bustards, which I can’t help but think got the short end of the stick, because they’re just entered into this compendium as a flock.

Another possibility is that – I’m wondering whether it’s because this compendium was published in the UK – perhaps there are geographical differences in collective nouns? To be honest, at this point, I’m getting the feeling there’s just more than one way to refer to a single-species mass of birds, for a number of species, and that maybe ravens are simply one of those that enjoy more than one (though I don’t know if they enjoy their reputation… it’s a bit less sinister than that for crows, I suppose, which have out and committed the murder already). Either way, you’ll be absolutely charmed by goldfinches, set a-trembling by finches, (apparently) inspired to conspire to unkindness by ravens, and probably left out of the heron posse (sadly). And I’ll be left wishing upon a star(ling) for someone to make this into a series of books of collective nouns, because I would be beyond ecstatic.

I haven’t talked about the illustrations yet, and I’d like to, but this is getting a bit long in the way of introduction to a series about birds, and I think taking the cover as the standard for the bird illustrations throughout will make for a fair evaluation. To keep it short: I’d love a poster of all these illustrations & accompanying text in my room, despite the fact that I don’t even put posters up in my room. I feel I might make an exception for this.

And now that those ravens have succeeded in their conspiracy to inspire you to read more about birds**, I’m going to provide a couple suggestions for general avian reading under the cut! Lily has also written a lovely post about Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, where she has also listed a few avian recommendations, so go check out that post as well!

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Escape the Ordinary – Brilliant Debut Authors: Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

ETO Adult Summer Reading Club_For Your LeisureSMALLER

modern romanceFive minutes after opening Aziz Ansari’s debut book I felt compelled to tweet:

“I started @azizansari’s book expecting to be thoroughly charmed. Then he started talking research methods & data and now I am in love, ok?”

This book didn’t just meet every expectation I had going in, it went so far beyond anything I had imagined that I was blown away.

And that rarely happens.

If you hadn’t already gathered, I am a fan of Aziz Ansari. I was endlessly fascinated by his performance as Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation, a character who doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities, but whose charm Ansari nevertheless managed to bring through.

Tom, you slimy charmer, you.

Tom, you slimy charmer, you.

His stand-up is sharp, smart, and truly contemporary in a way that I have not seen anyone else pull off – Ansari speaks for the social media generation, those of us for whom the internet has simply been a fact of life. He has a distinct voice, one that I really appreciate and find pretty consistently funny. So of course I wanted to read his book.

The good news part one: my expectations were met! Ansari’s authorial voice is clear and present throughout Modern Romance. Although he admits in the introduction that he had been reluctant to write a book, because stand-up is really his medium, his personality and especially his humour have translated seamlessly into the written form – I honestly found myself reading the book in his voice, knowing just the tone he would have delivered many of the lines in. And if the book had only been that, I would have been more than satisfied.

But it was so much more than that.

Modern Romance is a book about the contemporary dating scene, where more and more people are meeting online, and even when we do meet in person, we do most of our communicating through the internet or our phones, by writing instead on talking. This is a major topic of Ansari’s stand-up, also, and so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for.

But the book is not just an extension or a translation of Ansari’s stand-up material. It is actually the culmination of a multi-year sociological study that Ansari undertook with Eric Klinenberg, examining modern dating behaviours, comparing them to the way dating worked for older generations, and taking in quantitative and qualitative data, all coming together into some very real perspectives and advice on navigating the world of modern romance.

Ansari takes you with him through the research process and findings, speaking always in layperson terms, and injecting his personal brand of humour into the discussions in natural and relatable ways.

It’s a great book, an engaging and enjoyable read, and one that just might make you learn something!

If you’ve read the book, I’d like to know:

  • What did you find most surprising about the study’s findings and advice?
  • What are your thoughts on Ansari’s combination of humour and social science? Did the comedy add to or take away from the book’s overall content? Were you annoyed by all that data getting in the way of Ansari’s wit? Or did work for you?
  • Do you have experience with online dating? Do you feel like the book reflected your experiences?