Suck it, monkeys: Pigeons can read now, apparently. As Popular Science reported last week, our feathered frenemies may actually be able to comprehend, or at least recognize, written language. A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pigeons, with some training, were able to recognize 26 to 58 words, which is just a few steps away from being able to read books (and, presumably, eventually killing us all).
Rather than run in fear, we here at Brokelyn have decided to welcome our rat-bird overlords with a little reading guide. These guys mostly live in New York City, after all, so once they get the grasp of a few more words they’re bound to be hanging around the Strand and going to readings with the rest of us. Here are the ten books any self-respecting pigeon in the city needs in order to stay relevant.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Old New York was about four things: Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and pigeons. Patti Smith’s memoirs of New York City’s bad old glory days capture exactly the kind of grimy glamour that pigeons would be all about. All that pre-Giuliani realness, when artists could still afford rent and a pigeon could fly wherever it wanted in this city without the man bringing it down. When rock was still exciting, when only the bravest birds set food in Central Park after dark and when a bird could live off the bits of food it picked out of vomit puddles outside CBGB.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Like most of us, pigeons aren’t actually from New York. Even if this is their city now, the birds were originally brought over from Europe in the 1600s, so the New York immigrant story is really THEIR story. Like the book’s protagonists, modern pigeons are the children of immigrants, just trying to make in a city that scarcely wants them there at all. Plus, pigeons love trees.
Trump: The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump
For years, the pigeon community has famously vocalized its opposition to Donald Trump by defecating on Trump Tower. But now that Trump’s presidential bid is no longer a total joke, the time has come for the pigeons to do a little more research into exactly why they defecate on his tower. Hint: It’s because pigeons prefer vacant lots to skyscrapers. And also they’d have gone with Christie over Pence.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
We’ve all got to fly south sometimes. Pigeons aren’t migratory birds, so perhaps Didion’s essay on leaving New York is precisely what they need to exercise that same longing. And if not, they’ll at least have some ammo for complaining about the city when they inevitably learn to speak.
The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
Well, maybe not all pigeons, but these three at least:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Pigeons fly from neighborhood to neighborhood and their attention spans are tiny, so some loosely connected short stories ought to be right up their alley. And sure, they’re just learning, but even if their reading skills aren’t quite up to par and they don’t quite get the nuance, they’ll at least understand the PowerPoint section and the bits about eating fish out of the East River.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A book about leaving the modern world for a wild land of animals? I feel like pigeons would be into that. They never signed up for city living, there’s no way they don’t long for freedom from time to time. Plus, like I said, they’re still getting the hang of this whole reading thing so some pictures couldn’t hurt.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Tina Fey’s secrets to success have been out of the bag for a few years now, but the story will still resonate with the bird community. They’re trying to get a wing up like the rest of us, they’re flying through glass ceilings constantly and even they want you to come to their UCB class show. Plus, Liz Lemon totally made pigeons’ Three Fictional Characters collage.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
There’s nothing in there specifically for them, I just think it’s just an important book.
The Oxford English Dictionary
Beyond building out their blossoming vocabulary, pigeons can now specifically learn what all those old guys are saying in the park. As we reported last week, “Fuhgeddaboudit” is now officially a word for some reason, and New York birds had better get reading if they want to roll with the English speakers, not to mention understand Martin Scorsese’s early work and the comedy of Andrew Dice Clay.
To our human readers: apologies for taking the focus away from you today. Pigeons, I hope this list helps get you started and I can’t wait to see you at book club next week. The location has changed from Word to the dumpster outside Roberta’s.
Hey you pigeons, follow Sam’s Tweets: @SamHWeiss
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