Thursday, June 10, 2010

Winging It by Jenny Gardiner

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me by Jenny Gardiner
Copyright 2010
Gallery Books - Memoir/Pets
240 pages

There is one thing you should know before you read this review. It's totally biased. Winging It pissed me off so thoroughly that I don't know how to present a totally fair review and you should read other reviews like this one or this one (although, to be completely forthcoming, both of those were actually written by the author's friends, so they're not totally unbiased, either) if you want to get a really balanced viewpoint of this book -- or just go to Amazon, where it's averaged a shocking 4 stars. Obviously, I'm bucking the trend, here.

Billed as a memoir that centers around the African Gray parrot owned by Gardiner and her family, Winging It is less about the parrot than the author and her experiences as both pet owner and parent, but let's talk about the parrot, first. Graycie came into the Gardiner household as a gift. The author's brother-in-law, Scott, was living in Zaire and, back in those days (the 80s, I think), regulations on importing animals were pretty much nonexistent. The timing was awful. Although the Gardiners wanted to own a parrot someday, they were just starting a family and didn't have the time to properly care for a high-maintenance pet. They shoved her cage into the basement and pretty much ignored her, apart from feeding, cleaning and trying to get her to climb up an arm or talk.

My bird-owning friends tell me that trying to coerce a pet into doing what you want is "behavior modification" and they will mutter and curse if you get them going. I was more concerned that the pet deserved a home where she could receive proper attention, myself.

Eventually, the parrot moved to a more prominent place in the house and the author apparently spent hours and hours cleaning her poop and tending to Graycie's many injuries - many, many injuries. I'm not a bird owner and never have been, so I can't say whether or not Graycie's frequent injuries could have been prevented, but I can say I wondered. I definitely grew weary of the repeated comments that the author didn't have time for the parrot:

So what progress we had made began to deteriorate as a result of unplanned-for neglect.

I almost ditched the book when I got to the part where the author's cat went into heat. I've spoken to the author and she explained to me that neutering wasn't done as early in those days as it is now. I knew that. Back in the 70s, my family owned a cat who spent much of her time outdoors and she became pregnant before she reached the age considered acceptable for spaying. We kept one of the kittens and then got mama cat, Queenie, spayed.

The spaying issue wasn't the problem, though. My concern was not simply that the cat wasn't neutered but that the poor kitty was not only adopted by someone who claimed to not have money for an adoption fee (so, how did she plan to pay for the kitty's care?) but also was later locked into a bathroom with a male cat so that she could get it on and cease wailing. Just so we're clear, here, cats are not people. Biological imperative in the animal kingdom and human desire are not equivalent, as far as I know, and cats don't necessarily have fun mating.

Back to the cat . . . the idea, said the author (my adaptation of her words), "We can have cute little kittens and then give them away!" And, that endless caterwauling would end. It didn't work. After locking the poor kitty into a bathroom with a friend's male cat (a stranger to the female kitty) and ignoring the fighting noises for some time, the cats were released without having mated. Form your own opinion; I call that cruelty.

As to the parrot . . . she was just kind of there, pooping in the background.

Was there anything good about this book? Well, as I said, you'll have to read other reviews if you want to hear something positive, but I can tell you that I read quite a few and there were plenty of people who thought the book was entertaining. The consensus when I first read reviews at Amazon seemed to be that the book was not about the parrot and that it was, in fact, more sad than funny if you looked at it purely from the viewpoint of parrot ownership. But, plenty of people thought the stories about the Gardiner family were enjoyable reading.

I'll be honest; I didn't find the family stories entertaining, either. It seemed to me that the central theme of the book was, "First we bought a little house. Then we bought a bigger house. Then we bought this really cool, whopping big house! And, there were disasters and animal behavior issues and sick kids that we dragged on planes so that we could expose as many people as possible to our illness and then . . . we bought two houses!!!"

Dude, this book was so not for me. But, please read other reviews if you're considering it. I feel bad about trashing it and have to say . . . my thanks to the author and Gallery Books for the opportunity to read the book. Sorry I couldn't think of anything really nice to say. At least I didn't throw it at the wall before I passed it on. That's good, right?

Just walked in:

Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicky Myron with Bret Witter - I liked reading about Dewey (but not the autobiographical portions about the Ms. Myron) and am really looking forward to reading about how he inspired others.

And, the latest:

I picked up Jane Austen's Emma, this afternoon, and the spell has been broken! I am finally reading, again. 2 or 3 days . . . I'm not sure how many I went without reading a word but it was definitely my version of hell on earth.

Most fun I've had all day:

Taking a picture of the FedEx truck through my peephole. I'm thinking about doing a series . . . "Peeping at Delivery Trucks". Okay, laughing here. The typo that originally came out of my fingers: "Peeing at Delivery Trucks".

One more review forthcoming, primarily so I can bury this one. I like honesty, but sometimes it can be really, really painful and I don't enjoy inflicting pain.


  1. I don't know what it is about this week but I have not read anything since Sunday. I am afraid if I start to read tonight I am going to fall asleep. lol :)

  2. Brittanie,

    Let's blame the heat, shall we? It's as good a reason as any. I know what you mean. I've been so tired that I didn't even bother trying to read, at least one night -- maybe 2. Usually, I try to just roll with it, when my brain tells me it's in need of a break but this month I idiotically signed myself up to review 3 chunksters. THREE! Ack. What was I thinking?

    Hope you're back in the swing of things, soon.

  3. I do not find family situations funny unless they truly are. Does not sound like my kind of book thanks! :)

  4. I have seen several reviews by people who thought the book was funny - sorry it didn't work for you.

  5. Wow! I'm really sorry you felt this way. I was one of those people who read and reviewed this book and I really enjoyed it. I didn't find myself shaking my head once at what Jenny and her family "did" to their pets. In fact, I had the polar opposite feelings -- I thought they were truly devoted to their animals and I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who loves animals more than Jenny.

    And I did find this book to be more than about the family and their adventures with their pets. I thought it was very brave of Jenny to share so much about her daughter's ordeal, and I thought this book was ultimately about how loyal the entire family was -- to each other and their pets.

  6. Krista,

    I hate to totally turn off anyone to a book because we won't necessarily feel the same way, but this particular book just didn't resonate with me. Hopefully, the next pet book will be a winner.


    I didn't find it funny at all, but to each his own. It just wasn't for me!


    I'm not sure quite what to say in response. The book simply didn't meet my expectations. Courageous or not, I wasn't expecting to read a family memoir; I hoped to read funny pet anecdotes and I didn't find the book even slightly humorous. It's just one person's opinion. She's gotten a lot of positive reviews, so I'm well aware that not everyone feels the same and I'm fine with that.

  7. Now I'm really curious what I will think of this book. I love real life pet stories (as opposed to novels), and one of my blogging friends sent me here copy of this book. I guess I'll just have to read it and see.

  8. Alyce,

    You might love it; you never know. I'm glad I helped pique your curiosity. That's why I decided to go ahead and write my review, even though I felt negative -- negative publicity is still publicity.

  9. Wow. From your description, it sounds like they did not give their pets proper care. The bird had many injuries? and in the subtitle she says its vengeful and wants to kill her? I thought that was just a joke before, but now I wonder exactly what she did to that parrot?

    As for the kitty incidents, well, some people are just ignorant. My husband does not know a lot about animals. Our younger cat was old enough to be spayed right after we moved. Money was tight and vets in our area are so much more expensive! My husband wanted to forgo it because of the cost. I kept explaining to him how tortuous it would be to live with a yowling cat in heat, and he said "can't Irwin take care of that for her?" meaning our older, fixed male cat. He thought even though the male cat was neutered, it could mate and relieve her yowling. I don't think that would work! We did end up finding a spay/neuter clinic to take her to, and later a less-expensive vet in the outskirts of town.

    I don't know why I shared that whole story. I guess when you said how they locked the cats in the bathroom I pictured my hubby having that idea (though I would have squelched it quick).

    I do still want to try the book, though. But I'm more wary of it now.

  10. Jeane,

    The title is definitely meant to be silly and I certainly don't think they ever did anything to harm the parrot (they spent a tremendous amount of time tending to her wounds), but I did have to wonder if they just didn't bother to research how best to care for a parrot and could have avoided those repetitive injuries by studying up.

    The same is probably true of the cat issue. I have to agree with you that the kitty thing was ignorance but at the same time, I can't imagine ever locking up two strange cats together for *any* reason. My thought, as I was reading, was that the author was probably close to typical as pet owners go, in that they meant well and loved their pets but didn't bother reading up on pet care. Even as a kid, I read everything I could find about proper cat care, so I would have known better. Of course, ignorance is one of the reasons our shelters are exploding with unwanted pets.

    It'll be interesting to see what you think of the book.

  11. This is what I love about you, Nancy. You write completely honest reviews, regardless of how you obtained the book. Of course, that's the way it should be, but I can see how it'd be tempting to give a "meh" type of review and move on. I'm glad you didn't do that here. This is definitely one I'll pass on.

  12. Thanks, Les. It was really one of the hardest reviews I've written in a long, long time. I love authors and know how much sweat goes into the writing, so I really hate writing negative reviews. But, yeah . . . I'm honest. It goes against my grain to water down my feelings (obviously, LOL).

  13. Have you read Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg? It's also about an African Gray Parrot, but by someone who cared for it.

  14. Amanda,

    No, I haven't read Alex and Me, although I'm familiar with the title -- I recall seeing it on a list of pet-themed memoirs. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look it up! :)

  15. I just read this one, finally. Found it browsing at the library. It was interesting at first, but I just got more and more discouraged, especially when I got to the end and the parrot is still there, still mostly ignored, still resentful to its owner...

    1. Nine years on, I don't even remember the parrot! Humorously, the only things I recall about this book are the fact that she locked a cat in heat up with a male cat she didn't know and figured they'd have a good old time sexing it up. That *still* makes me angry. That and how she described the really big house. It sounded pretty cool. After rereading my review, I am feeling sorry for that parrot.


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