When I was trolling through the website for the International Organization for the Protection and Welfare of Squirrels last month, one of the people I noticed quoted at times on the site was some dude named Richard Mallery. In a related effort to verify some of the quotes that were attributed to him by the IOPWS, I found the listing for his book “Nuts About Squirrels” on Amazon. A check of the listings for the book revealed a number of copies that were available for purchase at the bargain basement price of just one shiny penny! I couldn’t resist that temptation, so I coughed up the $3.99 for shipping and ordered one of the penny books. It arrived in my mailbox last Wednesday, and I finished reading all 168 pages yesterday. I had decided before it even showed up at my door that I was going to write a review of it here, even though I’ve never written a book review in my life. It can’t be that hard, can it?
First a little background on Richard Mallery, at least as much as I can dig up in my lazy attempt at my first ever book review. The “About the Author” section of the book describes Mallery as a “humorist and environmental advocate” who also goes by the alter-ego Dick E. Bird, which he uses (or used may be the correct term) to publish a newsletter on the topic of birdfeeding and backyard wildlife called “The Dick E. Bird News”. I looked him up online to see if Dick E. had a website, but the best I could find is this Blogspot blog which was last updated in April 2007. Mallery appears to have a whole ring of blogs, including another whole nest of sites under the Squirrelly Neighbors blog, which at least appear to have been updated as recently as 2008. They all seem to contain illustrations that also appear in the book I am about to review, which leads me to conclude that Mallery also did most of the artwork for this book himself. A writer and an artiste, whooda thunk it?
I’ll buy the description of Mallery as a humorist, as the book was certainly written very tongue in cheek (or beak in cheek, as is used to describe the Dick E. Bird News). There are many cartoonish illustrations and other funny images put together throughout the book to keep the tone light-hearted. The book’s introduction was written by “Hairy Houdini”, aka- The Squirrel you love to hate.
While I was appreciative for the numerous visual breaks of levity, as well as the overall humorous tone of the book, the one downside was that the humor was also worked seamlessly into the many squirrelly facts Mallery gives from the front page to the back cover, and it wasn’t always obvious if the fact presented was simply an amazing “I did not know that” tidbit, or just Dick E. Bird being Dick E. Bird. Reading this book was like playing an extended game of Fact or Crap.
Another thing I feared before I even opened the book was that it’s target audience was going to be the birdfeeding public, and that was certainly driven home over and over and over and over and over again as I read through “Nuts”. Even in sentences and paragraphs that have nothing to do with birdfeeding and squirrels’ desires to raid them, Mallery manages to work in a humorous quip about it anyway. I stated before here that I am no fan of the birds at all, and not even this delightful book was going to change my opinion on that. I still don’t understand the birdfeeding obsession in this country, or maybe I just live in the only place in the entire country where I have to put up with this for months on end every Fall. At least my car doesn’t get shat on anymore now that I have a garage.
Yes, almost everything in this book is somehow tied into the whole idea of birdfeeder wars. Over the course of the book, we learn a couple things that I don’t think are really any surprise to most backyard enthusiasts, but which they will nonetheless persistently deny are true in an effort to save face:
1. There is no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder. Hundreds and thousands of “squirrel-proof” innovations have been designs over the years, all have either already failed or will eventually fail.
2. Squirrels may not necessarily be the most intelligent species on the planet, but when it comes to ingenuity, problem-solving skills, and a persistent can-do attitude, humans could learn a thing or two from them. You can challenge the critters all you like, and you may puzzle them the first few times, but they will always rise to the occasion and beat you… or die trying.
There are seven chapters in this book:
- Squirrel Biographies – Basic introduction to the different species of squirrels that are popular in backyards across North America, as well as many basic and not-so basic facts about squirrels that you may or may not have already known.
- The History of Furballs – A small chapter dedicated to the history of squirrels, including their role in early America (a stain on the legacy of our founding fathers), how they came to thinned out nearly to the point of exinction (you think squirrels are numerous now, read some of the stories about the early mass migrations that involved hordes several miles long and deep), and a little background on the different squirrel communities throughout the world, in particular, the handful of white squirrel cities across America and how they fight tooth and nail over which is the true home of Angel Squirrel.
- The Practical Solution of Squirrel-Feeding In Your Backyard – Goes into the dynamics between birds, squirrels, and humans in the backyard feeding warzone. The section in here titled “Birds are from Saturn, Squirrels are from Uranus” (complete with fake book cover, take that Dr. John Gray!) is particularly clever.
- Getting the Best (And Worst) of Your Squirrel – This is the longest chapter in the book, and the one I made the mistake of attempting to read one morning when I was already tired and just wanted to knock out a few more pages. Anyway, it picks right up from Chapter 3 and discusses the different methods people and birdfeeder manufacturers have tried over the years to keep squirrels out of the birdseed, and why none of them ever seem to work. He does mention some tips that are more successful squirrel baffles than others, but if you want to find out what those are, I’m not going to tell you. Buy the damn book if you want to know! This chapter ends with a list of 50 of Mallery’s best baffling suggestions, and like the rest of the book, these are laced with humor and most are obviously not to be taken seriously (unless you consider planting landmines in your backyard [#40] to be a practical solution to your squirrel problem).
- Homegrown Squirrel-Feeding Projects – Like the label on one of the squirrel feeders we used to sell at work once said, “If you can’t beat them, feed them!” This chapter, which is far too short compared to the squirrel-proofing chapter, discusses how to feed your backyard furry friends, and for the handyman, tips on how to build your own squirrel feeders AND squirrel nesting boxes! Are you listening, Sprotsie Baby?
- Rodent Rations – Homemade squirrel-feed recipes! What should you feed them, and how much? This chapter even has a section on what you should feed “mangy squirrels” to help improve their condition. The answer is peanut butter sandwiches and brewers yeast!
Finally there is Chapter 7: Squirrel Droppings, which was written by George Carlin. No, actually, that would be way too cool to see ol’ George’s thoughts on squirrels. This is just a long series of bullet points covering facts already presented in the book (which is wonderful for people like me with short attention spans) and putting a different spin on a few of them. Of course, there’s also plenty of humor entries here. Mallery is bound and determined to make you laugh at his 31278933rd joke about squirrels robbing your birdfeeder just as hearty as you laughed at the first one! Even the glossary at the end of the book can’t keep a straight face when educating you on squirrel terminology.
And there are more of Mallery’s fun (and funny) tidbits at the end of each chapter. Speaking of the end, it’s about time to wrap this little report up. Since I took no notes while reading and just typed this up by the seat of my pants, this is probably one of the more discombobulated book reviews you’ve ever read, but I tried my best. “Nuts About Squirrels” is a neat little book that is informative, engaging, and fun. With its intended audience as the average backyard wildlife manager in mind, it’s written in very easy to understand language so you don’t need a biology degree to learn anything from it. The illustrations and Dick E. Bird poems and observations that are peppered frequently throughout reinforce the lighthearted nature of the book, as well as provide a cute little distraction. I recommend this book to anyone out there who loves to hate their backyard squirrels (ohhhhhh Kiki!!!), and in particular the epilogue, which is also written by the infamous Hairy Houdini, that perfectly sums up what the idea of the whole book was about… being able to better appreciate ALL backyard wildlife by gaining a better understanding of those often portrayed as the villains, and everyone: humans, birds, AND squirrels get to live in wonderful harmony.