Skip to main content

Book 4 of 52: Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul

I've been asked why I review what I review. In 2007, I've offered my opinions on books about giant pumpkins, rats, smokers, and a cancer patient addicted to the Price is Right. Sometimes the books are assigned, but, more often than not, I pick what I review. I've been drawn in by an interesting cover and a great pitch letter, but the usual reason I'll pick something is because a book crosses wires with something else going on in my life.

Such is the case with Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. This time last year, I had zero interest in birding. Like Weidensaul thought as a teenager, my idea of a birder was more along the lines of that woman on Old Maid cards than someone like, well, me.

But then I started writing a book about the South Jersey shore, and I learned, among other things, that Cape May is a birders haven. Weidensaul writes that "Cape May...may be the single best place in North American -- perhaps the world -- for birding."

Well, damned if I didn't write a bucket of pages about Cape May this summer for my book, including a passage dedicated to birding at the southern most town in New Jersey. And damned if I didn't write an article about ideal birding spots in New Jersey soon after. Too bad I never placed that article I wanted to write about the World Series of Birding, where, in the middle Saturday of May, teams of birders spent 24 hours IDing as many birds as possible within the boundaries in NJ. Cape May is a must stop for any World Series birding team.

All this was on my mind when I opened up the package that held Of a Feather. Weidensaul's timing, at least in relation to me, was perfect.

I liked the book. I probably would have liked it more if I was a birder and had a tenth of the passion toward the sport as Weidensaul does, but that doesn't preclude me from admiring his writing ability, and style. His passage in the last pages of the Of a Feather about an elementary school class seeing a northern saw-whet owl for the first time is so well written that I could see both the little bird, and those little kids and their combined wonder, even though I was reclining on my couch in New Jersey and the only wildlife around was a snoring Jack Russell Terrier. Good writing can make me interesting in anything -- my penchant for this book is evidence of that.

Weidensaul also reminded me of what a dork I am, because through the entire passage about how, in the late 1800s, people tried to introduce bird species to other parts of the world, all I could think about was Star Trek's prime directive. I'm a firm believer that lessons learned from Star Trek, like Shakespeare and Scrubs, can be applied to every life situation. Forget Kindergarten. Everything I learned cam from the Bard, Gene Roddenbury and Bill Lawrence. That's more than a little scary. And pathetic, if you ask me. But I know there are a lot of closet Star Trek fans who would agree.

This also marks the first time that I am writing here about a book I've been assigned to review. I debated for some time (at least half of my six mile run on Sunday) about how to approach this. What I realized is that these essays have little to do with my newspaper reviews. The only things they have in common are the book and whether I give it an overall thumbs up or down. Plus, I only have 350-600 words in a newspaper review, so that writing is very tight and give bare bones opinions about what I think of the book. I tried to write about that elementary school/owl passage in the review, but there just wasn't space. I can write however much I like here, and I can relate birds to Spock if I feel like it, or post this Scrubs clip because I think it so mirrors how I feel about relationships right now:

Again -- all in a post about birds. Such is the beauty (or danger) of the internet.

When the review hits paper, I will post it here, much like I did with my review of Ed Hamilton's Legends of the Chelsea Hotel.

Until then, it's onto book 5 of 52...


Jess Riley said…
I'm almost embarrassed to admit how into birds I've gotten in the past year. It's like I skipped my thirties and zoomed right into my seventies.

(Here via Allison Winn Scotch's blog featuring her interview with you...:)

Popular posts from this blog

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro