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Saturday, 16 January 2021

Book Review - The Gull Next Door - Princeton University Press

 


     When I first saw this book, I was impressed by the cover! What a delightful, colourful image!
     Marianne Taylor is a popular natural history writer, easy to read, known to present technical details in simplified terms to make them accessible to the general reader. In this book she succeeds in this aim.
     For my taste she gets a little too folksy at times, repeatedly referring to North America as "across the pond", for example. Once is fine perhaps, over and over gets a little tedious.
     In presenting the gull as a misunderstood bird, she tugs at my sensibilities, however, and anything that can be done to rehabilitate the image of this much maligned bird wins my vote. There are many species of gull, of course (never seagull!), but the principal focus of Taylor's book is the Herring Gull, Britain's most common species, and the one most often encountered and maligned by intolerant humans. Those same humans are often the architects of their own misfortune. City dwellers on a day's excursion to the coast go out of their way to feed gulls, applauding  their aerial acrobatics as they snag food in mid air, and rejoicing in the proximity of a gull taking a morsel from their outstretched hand, only to vent their anger when their sandwich is snatched from them on its way to their mouth. 
     As we have encroached on gull habitat and built upon their natural nesting areas, or taken over their beaches, gulls have taken to nesting on the roofs of houses and commercial buildings, to the delight of a few, but to the dismay of many. Measures are in place to prevent them from using these substrates, and as a result gull numbers in virtually all species are  declining, sometime precipitously so.
     Taylor makes the point that we need to acknowledge the reality that we have to share this planet with other species, that we have to accommodate to their choice to use the last remaining places where they may live out their lives and breed successfully. The obliteration of nature is not, nor should be, an option that thinking people contemplate. It may not always be easy to live alongside gulls, but we have to accept the fact that minor inconvenience is a small price to pay for ecological integrity.
     As a direct result of anthropogenic actions ocean temperatures are warming, the seas are filled with plastic, the food chain is being disrupted and gulls (and other seabirds) are facing more than enough challenges without humans imposing additional persecution.
     The final chapter is a sombre recognition of the stark impacts of disastrous climate change, and the effect it will have on all species, including our own. Any way that we can remediate the damage done, including the restoration of functioning ecosystems, will benefit human and gull alike. Time is running out, however.
     To paraphrase another famous statement concerning human injustice, "Can't we all just get along?" 

The Gull Next Door - Princeton University Press
Author - Marianne Taylor
Hard cover - £20 - US$24.95
ISBN 9780691208961 - Published 27 October 2020 - 192 pages - 6" x 9.25"

58 comments:

  1. The cover is wonderful, David. The gulls are hated here along with the magpie. It's sad, but that's the way it is.

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  2. Nice photo and the book sounds very interesting. Have a great day

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  3. Nice review David. The artwork on the cover is very attractive for sure, I love the buildings, that style of art is really neat. Reminds me of German Expressionism a little bit!

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  4. It's nice that seagulls have a book dedicated to them.
    PS The craziest seagulls in the world are in Venice !

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  5. Speaking for those of us who live "across the pond" (and I agree it is a tedious reference) "Getting Along" doesn't seem to be in the cards as we are not only obliterating nature, but we are obliterating ourselves in ways that I could never have imagined. I don't know if you, or anyone else who would like to pipe in, can get through to the numbskulls who are tearing our country apart, but I, for one, am glad to see it in writing in your blog and hope that it is appearing in many more forms. To say that I am frustrated doesn't come close ... though I still have hope, on an occasional day, but the lights are dimming for sure. Thank you for your thoughtful post ... I look forward to hearing more from you :)

    Andrea @ From The Sol

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  6. Folksiness aside this sounds like a book right up my very broad street. Thank you. Can't we all just get along sounds like a plea from my heart too.

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  7. Gulls are one of my favorites. A beautiful bird. And fascinating to watch.

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  8. It would be interesting to conduct a study into human reaction to wildlife; it's by no means simple or predictable. Gulls nesting in towns are unpopular, though for some reason the Kittiwakes that nest on bridges and buildings near the R Tyne in Newcastle are not only tolerated but celebrated. No one likes magpies stealing eggs and chicks, but people like to see Woodpeckers in their gardens even though they do the same thing. Even birdwatchers have bizarre prejudices - a bird whose sense of direction is so vague that it migrates to somewhere it shouldn't be, attracts much attention until it dies within a few hours of its arrival; meanwhile a bird which has the wit to escape from captivity and survive in the wild is dismissed as being of no account. There's nowt so queer as folk.

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    1. Trying to ascribe rational thought to most humans is a lost cause, John.

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  9. Herring gulls aren't common here, but they're around. I have a little trouble with them because of their habit of plucking newly-hatched ducklings from the water. On the other hand, when I see a mother Mallard with fifteen or seventeen babies, the rational part of my mind realizes that (1) she might appreciate having fewer babes to ride herd on; (2)if all the ducklings that hatch survive, we'd be up to our whatevers in ducks, and (3) gulls need to eat, too. This looks like a great book to build appreciation!

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  10. I like them both, the book cover and the clever title +subtitle.
    Yes, we have to share this planet with other species and definitely try to get along with them.

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  11. Thank you for a good review of an interesting-sounding book, David.

    I totally agree with your feelings about gulls being maligned. I simply can't imagine visiting the coast without the sounds and flurry of wings of all the gulls.

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  12. Hari OM
    OH you know I'm onto this one, David!!! Hope you don't mind if I put a link for UK visitors to Blackwells Bookshop where it can be obtained at fifteen rathern than twenty pounds... YAM xx

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    1. Not at all. Thanks for doing it YAM. The prices I cite are taken from the press release Princeton sends with the book.

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  13. La couverture est jolie et cela semble intéressant.
    Bonne soirée

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  14. The book must be amazing! <3

    www.pimentamaisdoce.blogspot.com

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  15. Thanks for the review. I will have to look out for this book.

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  16. Nice review, David. I will have to look for it, we have plenty of seagulls around where I live.

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  17. I like the gulls but then again I also love doves and crows xoxo

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  18. I would be just happy to see a gull, none around here! Despite your great review not sure this would appeal to me,
    Whatever, keep safe and stay well. Diane

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  19. I knew straightaway where that illustration was drawn David, it is so typically English. The tall huts are fisherman's huts, there is a funicular railway line on the cliff face, and at the very top of the cliff is a motte and bailey castle. It is Hastings in E.Sussex where the great battle took place in 1066.

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    1. Kudos to you, Rosemary. The author was born and raised in Hastings so I suspect you are correct.

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  20. We all should be able to get along with all creatures on land and sea.
    Liking the cover that in itself is attractive and wood attract my attention.

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  21. Sounds like a good read, and I love the cover illustration. We have lots of gulls here, and I love watching them flying, or bobbing along the river. Have a great Sunday, hugs, Valerie

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  22. Gulls are such fascinating birds if one takes the time to sit down and watch them. I would miss them so much if they were no longer inhabiting our beaches.

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  23. Hello, David
    I like the book cover, it is pretty. Great review, thanks for sharing. Take care, have a great day and a happy new week!

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  24. I think Phil did a critique of the book a few weeks back. I may be mistaken. I enjoyed reading your views also! And yes, when an author repetitively repeats a phrase/word throughout...it annoys me too.

    Thanks for joining us at IRBB this week. Happy birding!

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  25. From a distance, gulls are beautiful symbols of freedom over the oceanic wilderness. Up close, however, they can be loud, aggressive and even violent.
    I am angry with them sometimes too ... They fly above our house and sometimes leave a really nasty "message" ... on the windows! LOL

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  26. What an exuberant cover that expresses the vibrancy of gulls that are also plentiful in my neck-of-the-woods. Most creatures, even human beings, can misunderstand one another. With all the flaws, I suppose it is amazing we co-habit Earth as well as we do. Some could be fed-up with gulls but it is humans, not gulls, who are messing up the ecosystem for all.

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  27. When I read the title of your blog post, and the title of the book, I prejudged that this would not be a book for me, David, based on the fact that, unlike you, I do not have a particular interest in gulls (nor do I have any ill-wishes towards them), and also that the title of the book seemed to be somewhat flippant.

    However, having read you review, I might well buy it. I'll endeavour to ignore the repetitious references to "across the pond" - a phrase I've been known to use myself - and look for the deeper messages. By the way, Lindsay still insists on referring to "seagulls", the last time being at lunch, less than an hour ago, in spite of my remonstations! I've even be known to say that "that particular gull is more of a land gull than a 'seagull'".

    Best wishes to you both - stay safe - Lindsay sends her regards, by the way - - - Richard

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  28. El libro se interesante. Abrazos y salud querido amigo.

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  29. Las personas tenemos un serio problema y solo cuando la inmensa mayoría se de cuenta que cada especie tiene una función en este planeta las cosas van a ir a peor. Muy interesante tu comentario querido David. En nuestra casa de Gijón podemos ver como muchos alimentan las Gaviotas y luego cuando llega la primavera y los tejados se llenan de nidos y con ello de ruido molestan. Complicada solución. Un abrazo enorme para ti y para Miriam. Cuidaros mucho.

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  30. Thanks for the wonderful book recommendation!
    Greetings

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  31. The book cover is really lovely. I tend to judge a book by its cover!

    Great review, David!

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  32. I am glad so many books of this type are coming out. I just finished an excellent novel about the effects of humans on animals, birds and insects: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy.

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  33. I have a Marianne Taylor book (The Nature Book) on my to read pile already, perhaps I will add this one too!

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  34. Buenas noches, siempre lo he dicho y lo mantengo amigo David, el ser humano tiene un problema de adaptación y convivencia y esto se aprende desde bien pequeño en los colegios. No entiendo como no existe una asignatura obligatoria sobre nuestro planeta y nuestro comportamiento con el hogar de todos y para todos.
    Seguro que es un buen libro dada tu explicación sobre él.
    Un fuerte abrazo querido amigo y compadre David.

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  35. The cover of that book is fantastic, I really like the art. Sounds like an interesting book and I enjoyed reading your review of it.

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  36. Gulls do get a bad (and undeserved, I think) rap. They really are quite amazing birds.

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  37. Hi David,
    Again you appear to have found another interesting book, the only gull I have a dislike for being the Great Black-backed Gull, a real bully with the size to carry it of.
    You both stay safe.
    John

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  38. I have a soft spot for gulls, as they are one of my "lake" birds. This sounds really quite good and well written. And I also love the cover art.

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    1. The irony is, Jeanie, we have not seen a Ring-billed Gull or a Herring Gull yet this year. They seem to have mysteriously vanished!

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  39. Growing up in Devon by the sea, seagulls (yes, seagulls!) were a part of my every day life. Loved going down to the beach with bread to "feed the seagulls"! That's frowned apon now of course. Love the book cover, looks like a lino cut or a wood cut.
    There's a great poem that I love...., Seagulls by E.J.Pratt. I learned it as a child because i liked it so much and can still quote the whole thing.

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    1. I will Google the poem and see if I can find it online.

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  40. Buena recomendación. Como no cambimos las costumbres el planeta se ira al garete amigo. No se conoces esta expresió en España se usa mucho y significa que va a la deriva. Empecemos a hacer algo y a cuidar más el medioambiente por el bien de TODOS.
    Buena semana David. Cuidaros.
    Un abrazo.

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    1. Well said, Laura. Sometimes I fear we do not even have the capacity to change. Un abrazo.

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  41. I do like the cover of this book, and it does sound good.
    Many thanks for the review.

    All the best Jan

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  42. I had no idea that gulls are declining in places! The book looks interesting!

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  43. Thanks for the book recommendation, yes the book cover is very nice.
    Can't we all get along? Yes we can.
    Have a nice week... and thank you for your wonderful photos.

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  44. Even though we do not live by a seashore, gulls are a frequent sight from our 5th floor apt which overlooks a river. They are especially prevalent whenever a storm is forecast often flying in groups and providing quite the aerobatic show. Those most often seen are herring gulls. It is unfortunate that gulls have become so maligned when in many cases it is humans who have been the intruders.

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  45. I seem to have a whole lot of comments that have gone AWOL on a number of blogs and I know that I put one here. I liked the review but mentioned that despite all your good comments I did not think I would probably buy it. I never see gulls here and seldom do we ever go near the coast. I hope all is well. Keep safe Diane

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  46. That sounds like a charming book. When I think of gulls, I think of gull poop. I am not a nice neighbor am I? Wonderful post!

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  47. Hi David, interested beautiful book. I like gulls and I like books. Thanks for sharing these recommendation.

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  48. Would you believe it is the gull's feet which capture my interest the most.
    I never get tired of watching gulls because they are not shy and allow you close up to really see what they are up to.
    Across the Pond...where did that expression ever come from? Never heard it growing up in the north of England.
    My favorite Christmas gift is the book, What It's Like To Be A Bird. Quite marvelous.

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  49. Gulls are fascinating. Seeing them flying around here is infrequent, we have hot winds blowing, and they apparently do not do well in that.

    Excellent, David. Living near the Pacific we are all too familiar with trash and litter that is eating up the ocean and its habitats.

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  50. Hi David - I still can't say I'm enamoured ... but do understand our impact on their lives - they're also pretty smart birds ... looking out for themselves - though left to their own devices I'm sure they'd be ecstatically happy. A book I should read at some stage ... I'll check the library out when things get moving again. Thanks for bringing her to our attention - I'm waiting for the snow to arrive!! All the best - Hilary

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