Tove Danovich is the author of Under the Henfluence, a Summer/Fall 2022 Indies Introduce adult selection.
Danovich is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Ringer, Backyard Poultry Magazine, and many others. She is a former Midwesterner, turned New Yorker, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. She keeps several chickens in her suburban yard and hopes to add more.
Tanya Parker Mills of The Book Bungalow in St. George, Utah, served on the bookseller panel that selected Danovich’s debut for Indies Introduce and said of the book, “Possibly the most entertaining nonfiction I’ve read in years. I guarantee a smile and/or an egg & chicken pun in every chapter. Even with all the specific details about the poultry industry, the read is light and easy and the author really makes the whole idea of backyard chickens a fun and funny prospect.”
Here, Danovich and Mills discuss Under the Henfluence.
Tanya Parker Mills: How did you come to fall “under the henfluence” in the first place and has it been worth the cost?
Tove Danovich: Five years ago, I decided to get three chickens so I would have a source of eggs from hens who I knew were raised well. I’d spent time around chickens and knew I liked them well enough to want to take on that responsibility but didn’t expect to fall in love with them. I did almost immediately. They’re charming birds with a lot of personality from the way they talk to the funny waddling way they run. They’re always getting into mischief but it’s a manageable amount of chaos like flying onto the roof or hiding their eggs in the bushes or eating the buds off my rosebushes.
For my own sanity, I refuse to track exactly how much I’ve spent on the chickens and it’s certainly a lot more than it would have cost to get eggs at the grocery store. But we also never ask if a dog is “worth the cost” because we know that you get back something from having a dog that’s impossible to put a price on. My chickens are the same (and then I get eggs as a bonus!). I also think we do a lot of things to farm animals in the name of keeping cost in the grocery store down but those prices certainly don’t reflect the humane, environmental, and ethical cost of animal products.
TPM: Please explain why you referred to the US Postal Service in chapter 2 as the United States Poultry Service.
Partially it is because I love some word play — as you might have noticed from the title of the book — but it’s also because since 1913 the USPS has been shipping day-old chicks across the country. Most people who don’t keep chickens wouldn’t know that from February through November there are thousands of chicks being packed into cardboard boxes and travelling by truck and plane to their new homes. I certainly didn’t before I got chickens.
TPM: Which do you think are more effective — therapy dogs or therapy chickens, and why?
TD: As someone who has both pet dogs and pet chickens, I think they can both be amazing options. Therapy animals (not to be confused with service animals which, as much as I like chickens, they would not be very good at) can be really soothing for people. Just the act of petting an animal can make us feel calmer. But often therapy animals are pulling double duty. They’re allowing us to connect with the animal and also with the human handler or the other humans around us. It’s why it’s much easier to walk up to a stranger and ask them about their dog than to strike up a conversation at random.
For some people, a dog is the best therapy animal in the world. Other people are scared of dogs or allergic or just not that into them. Chickens are an unexpected animal in a therapeutic setting yet they are small and they exist in some form in nearly every culture in the world. That means that there’s a novelty aspect that might bring people out to see them that might not otherwise come to animal therapy. Just about everyone seems to have some story about a friend or relative who raises chickens and while they’re familiar, a lot of people haven’t seen them before and have a lot of questions which facilitates that human-to-human connection. They’re also surprisingly soft and their feathery fluff is so nice to sink your fingers into.
TPM: Which states and/or regions in the country have the most to offer a lover of all things chicken? (And please give an example or two that stood out for you.)
TD: These days I think just about anywhere can be a chicken hotspot! I know the backyard chicken movement is particularly big in Portland, Seattle, LA, Austin, and Boulder, but it seems like anywhere you live will have some kind of chicken group on social media. One thing I’m jealous of is Silicon Valley’s long running Tour de Coop which is a bike tour that showcases people’s backyard chicken setups. Ybor City in Florida used to have a James E. Rooster parade but I don’t think it’s happened for some years. I hope they start it up again! Otherwise, I think chicken shows, especially a big one like the Ohio National in Columbus, are always a lot of fun and a great way to see rare chicken breeds and talk to chicken people from all over.
TPM: Of all the puns you used in this fun, humorous, and thorough deep dive into the world of raising backyard chickens, which were you most proud of?
TD: It has to be the title, right? I don’t consider myself someone who is very good at coming up with titles but Under the Henfluence was my idea and it so perfectly encapsulates the book. Though, I have to say, the chapter on chickens as therapy animals was initially just called “Chicken Therapy” and in a late edit I realized that it was a bit flat and switched it to “Cheep Therapy” which is much better. Can’t believe I almost missed it!
Under the Henfluence by Tove Danovich (Agate Surrey, 9781572843219, Hardcover Memoir, $27) On Sale: 3/28/2023.
Find out more about the author at tovedanovich.com.
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