Monday, February 14, 2011

Polly Misses Alex

How does anyone find time to read anything else when their class assigns 25 books in a semester? I don't know. I blame it on the fact I don't have kids or a full-time job. Don't hate because I get to read so much.

But every year at this time the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County sponsors a book for it's "On the Same Page Cincinnati" program. The idea is that libraries across the county host reading groups and events surrounding this one book so everyone can have this shared experience. Last year, it was The Hunger Games. I had wanted to read the book anyway so I participated in my introvert way (meaning I read the book from the library and gazed longingly at the archery contests for teenagers). This year, it was a book called Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discover the Hidden World of Animal Intelligence and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg. I was less than enthused, but I like Science Friday so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Oh my goodness, this book is amazing. Well technically Alex is amazing. Over the course of his 30 years, Alex learned how to label objects, colors and shapes, he could tell the difference between objects (and tell you what was different), and he even created his own word for "apple". That bird was smart! You'll love Alex even if you don't really like animals, because he's just too endearing.

I also really liked how Pepperberg wrote the book. It's understandable and friendly, but I didn't see a whole lot of evidence of bad science. She doesn't overstate her research with Alex and the other African greys. She talks about getting significant samples. All very good things.

But here's the lasting impact of the book for me:
1) Alex called almonds "cork nuts". This week my mom sent some unshelled nuts in the mail and those almonds do look an awful lot like corks. I think I'm going to adopt the term.
2) Pepperberg worked for a while at Media Lab at MIT and this place is amazing. I was listening to an old Science Friday episode from like October and they were celebrating Media Lab's 25th birthday--these are the people who gave us e-ink for Kindles and guitar hero. The fact that Pepperberg and Alex are associated with these guys makes them SO much cooler in my book.
3) In April, Rio a movie about... oh sad it's a rare blue macaw not a parrot... boo. Well, if you want some facts to go with your animation, Alex and Me will provide some balance. We'll go see it because it takes places in Rio.

These are obviously not the important parts of the book. And you'll undoubtedly fine much more significance than I have. But I still love it, and I'll encourage everyone to participate in On the Same Page Cincinnati even if you don't live here.

But if you do, come see Irene Pepperberg on March 5th at 2pm at the main library. I think I might actually participate!

1 comment:

Alaina said...

back in the day, when I drove places, i listened to NPR a lot and I loved science friday...
now I kind of miss it, but I don't miss the driving.

i don't know how you find the time. i don't know how or why I am finding the time to even type this!