Pigeons, Walking, Writing, Oh My!

Author: Deyana Atanasova 

If you’ve been referring to pigeons as “the rats of the sky,” you might want to reconsider your perspective.  

That’s precisely what accomplished author and professor Kathleen Rooney asks readers to do when reading her newest novel, Cher Ami and Major Wjittlesey, which is told from two perspectives: an army soldier in WWI and a messenger pigeon. If you want to hear about it more in-depth and better than I could ever explain it, you can learn more about it here from Rooney herself. 

(The cover of Rooney’s newest novel, Cher Amie and Major Whittlesey)

Yet, even without reading the novel, we can all be a bit more conscientious of how we regard and interact with the world, including what we take for granted and what we remember.

In an Honors Speakers event on Thursday evening, January 21st, right after the inauguration, several students from the Honors Program hopped on a Zoom call with author Kathleen Rooney and had the opportunity to hear a live reading and engage in a Q&A. The topics talked about ranged from writing processes, walking as an adjacent activity to writing, buckets of historical knowledge, the publishing industry, and of course–really cool pigeon facts.

For example, did you know that pigeons can actually recognize the alphabet and learn upwards of 60 words? Or that when looking at a group of people, they can actually discern us as individuals? Meanwhile, chances are, if we were to see the same pigeon two days in a row, we would never really be able to tell them apart.

The moral of the story is, we take things for granted. And yes, that’s a truism, but if you asked me whether I would miss the sight of a pigeon under the Adams/Wabash stop by the Brown Line before quarantine, I’m not sure I would have understood the gravity of the question.

And by the way, this conversation doesn’t even include the whole “pigeons aren’t real” discourse which, quite frankly, seems like a silly joke but becomes quite harmful when unpacking the deep double standards of surveillance. Dr. Eric Anthamatten’s philosophical piece “Visibility is a Trap: Body Cameras and the Panopticon of Police Power unpacks this much more (shout out to Dr. Fanny Söderbäck’s HON 105 Philosophical Inquiry class for featuring this reading). So, what does this have to do with pigeons again? Well, you might have also seen all of those Bernie memes with the mittens. There was one in particular where Bernie was photoshopped sitting in front of a bunch of pigeons, giving off that Michael Scott feeding the pigeons in the park vibe. And in fact, there’s even a meme generator where you can photoshop Bernie sitting anywhere in Google Maps Street View.

An unphotoshopped photo of Bernie at the inauguration

I found myself becoming bothered on social media during and after the inauguration as I was trying to come to terms with the idea that yes, the new administration would mean undoing a lot of harm.  But it is not a like a carrier pigeon flew in from a beam of light in the sky with the one-step policy solution to battle systemic racism, the prison industrial complex, implementing universal healthcare, mitigating the pandemic, etc.

To borrow a pun from Rooney on the night of the live reading, I do not advocate for the “pigeonhole” idea that now we can go back to “normalcy” and compartmentalize politics. We need to keep learning, unlearning, and re-learning. We simply cannot forget not just the past four years but the underlying centuries of oppression that led up to it.

If you’ve made it this far into this post, you’ll know that we landed pretty far from where we took flight. But I think that’s part of the beauty in writing, in that you can meander and walk around, connecting checkpoints and making meaning.

If anything, maybe the next time you see or think of a pigeon, you’ll sign a petition or learn more about the local work being done by heroes in their communities right now. Maybe, you’ll end up picking up a copy of Rooney’s novel and reading it, savoring every clever line of and about the dynamics of language. Or, you’ll look up the slightly unsettling amount of figures of speech out there related to pigeons.

In the Q&A portion of the live reading event, Rooney also said something along the lines of “usually, stuff finds a home.” I forget the context given my rushed, chicken pigeon scratch handwriting, but I hope that in some way, shape, or form, you got something from this piece and that it has found a home, albeit even a fleeting one. P.S. In other (un)related news, a pigeon was spared from the death sentence recently in Australia. Lots to unpack there, too.


All the Cookbooks I’ve Checked Out from the Library Over Quarantine (So Far)

Author: Morris McLennan

I don’t remember how this started. I believe my roommates and I were having a good laugh about mobsters. Perhaps it was around the time we were planning to marathon all the Godfather movies? I can’t say I’m entirely sure. What I do know is this: my life was forever changed after going to the library and checking out The Wise Guy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run by Henry Hill.  What started as a joke has turned into my favorite quarantine activity of all time. I browse the internet for cookbooks, then instead of buying them like some kind of billionaire, I check them out from the library and cook through a few of the recipes before returning them. 

For context, I have been cooking and baking consistently for three years now. I’m no five-star chef, but I do have a lot of experience reading and following recipes. Unfortunately, my opinion is not objectively true, and all of my reviews will be based on my opinion. Many cookbooks are hard to compare, so please don’t take this as anything other than silly college entertainment writing. But without further ado, here are my reviews.

The Wise Guy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run by Henry Hill

Henry. The man who started it all. I’ve never seen Goodfellas, but I promise I’ll watch it eventually. Henry Hill is apparently one of the mobsters that movie was about. As for the cookbook, his stories are the best part. First I made his stuffed shells with tomato mint sauce, but I used store-bought vegan mozzarella and homemade tofu ricotta instead of cow cheese. I don’t think that’s how Henry would’ve wanted me to make it, but it turned out pretty good, and I’ll definitely make them again sometime. I also made a sun-dried tomato pasta sauce, which was fine, but not awesome. That being said, this is a great cookbook to read cover to cover. There are stories all about the recipes and where they come from. It’s organized not by breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or even by seasons; Henry Hill’s cookbook follows his life on the run! 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Food52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen by Gena Hamshaw

I love the Food52 website. I love the Food52 YouTube channel. I guzzle Food52 recipes like I’m a very dehydrated person and they are water. Gena Hamshaw is the queen of Food52 vegan recipes. I own her other cookbook, Power Plates, so I was excited to give this one a try. However, many of the Food52 Vegan recipes are copies of the recipes that appear in Power Plates. Many of the recipes looked sort of basic and boring to me. It’s a nice cookbook, and there’s plenty of pictures, but you’re probably better off just looking at the recipes online. I tried the date nut bread, and it was okay, but I don’t love dates all that much. 

My Rating: 2 Stars

The Jewish Cookbook by Leah Koeing

I checked out this book with the intention of learning how to make hamantaschen. I have not leaned how to make hamantaschen yet. However, I still have a few days left on my loan, and Lori Lightfoot can’t take my money if I return it a few days late. What makes The Jewish Cookbook so special is the massive quantity of recipes and information it contains. Jewish food exists basically all over the planet, so there are tons of regional dishes and variations on recipes. The Jewish Cookbook also contains stories about many of the recipes; I know I learned a lot while flipping through it. The only recipe I’ve made so far is braised fennel, and it was very solid, but I also discovered that I don’t really like fennel that much. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

PLANTLAB by Matthew Kenney

Maybe I should not be reviewing this cookbook since I haven’t made any recipes from it, but I feel like it would be dishonest of me not to tell you what happened. What happened, you ask? I checked this cookbook out from the library, looked at it for five minutes, and then returned it. I do not want to make meals that are essentially just raw or cooked vegetables with no source of… anything remotely satiating. This is a cookbook for people who want to make tiny fancy restaurant foods. Also many of the recipes were for raw foods, which I have no personal disrespect for, I simply do not consider them high on my list of foods I want to make. 

My Rating: 1 Star

Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing by Jerrelle Guy

When Food52 released a video on Jerrelle Guy’s kombucha muffins, I thought… no way. Then I made them, and I thought ‘this is unlike anything I’ve ever made before; I wonder if more recipes like this exist?’ Then I learned that Jerrelle Guy has a cookbook. And it is amazing. I am a whole grain fanboy. I am an alternative flours fanboy. I am a vegan baked goods fanboy. This cookbook has brought so much joy into my life. I made the almond coconut croissants and they brought a tear to my eye. I have like ten bookmarks on the recipes I want to make. I must admit that I did severely mess up the apple crisp recipe, and ended up with something both burnt and raw at the same time, but that was probably on me. The croissants changed my life and I will be buying this cookbook once I return the library copy. 

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Those are all my cookbook reviews so far! If you’re familiar with any of these cookbooks and have opinions, I would love to hear them. I’m also open to any suggestions for more cookbooks I should check out in the future.   Email me at: cmclenna@depaul.edu