Birder Kenn Kaufman chronicles the beginning of his love affair with birds, taking us from a childhood memorizing local species in Kansas to teenage aBirder Kenn Kaufman chronicles the beginning of his love affair with birds, taking us from a childhood memorizing local species in Kansas to teenage adventures hitchhiking across the country, a high-school dropout in search of new species to add to his list.
It's a pretty gentle look at obsession, using a genial, easygoing voice to capture utter fixation. From the start, Kaufman makes it clear that he's uninterested in living by anyone else's standards, and his focus finds him sleeping on a tarp and subsisting on nothing as he thumbs his way across the country looking for the next black-capped gnatcatcher or horned guan.
"I could easily go birding for a month on fifty bucks. All my travel was by hitchhiking. I never slept in motels--literally never; I slept outside, regardless of the weather. For food, I tried to get by on a dollar a day. Going to grocery stores, I would buy cans of vegetable soup, cans of hominy, perishables marked down for quick sale. Later I discovered that dry cat food was palatable, barely; a box of Little Friskies, stuffed in my backpack, could keep me gong for days."
Soon, though, Kaufman realizes there's a community much like him. It's not long before the thrill of discovery extends to the joys of companionship as the young traveler meets friends, mentors and even his first wife. Before long, he's decided to take a shot at setting a new record for a "Big Year"--an attempt to see as many species as possible in one calendar year. This effort, which makes up the bulk of the book, sees him starving himself and spending lonely hours waiting on highway-on-ramps as he travels to see the next bird.
"Kingbird Highway" is easy and approachable, especially for a book that deals with a specialized subject. Even in naming more than 600 species, Kaufman is careful to remain open to birding novices, communicating just a bit of what makes each species special to encounter.
Beyond the biology, though, I most enjoyed his efforts to conjure the era's birding community. We see how newsletters and phone trees are changing the hobby. We also meet plenty of characters, from backyard birders to prodigies dreaming of tropical landscapes to survey. There are sleepless nights, Alaskan airways and dreamlike journeys south of the border.
Through it all, the author's steady voice keeps our focus on the next milestone he needs to hit for the record. By the end of the year, Kaufman has grown disenchanted with the checklist approach to birding, wanting to move toward a deeper connection with the species he loves. The contest ends up almost an afterthought...although that may be because of how it turns out.
I do wish Kaufman had turned a sharper eye on himself, trying to unravel exactly what motivated him to commit to such a harsh life on the road. Sure, there are some stabs at an explanation, but it feels detached instead of urgent. It's not surprising to read that the book was crafted decades after the experience; it does feel like a bit of the immediacy has been drained from it, although it may also benefit from the longer perspective.
If you're not interested in birds, this may not be the book for you, as Kaufman devotes a lot of space to their habits and calls as well as the thrill they incite in a certain crowd. Not being a birder myself, I enjoyed a glimpse into their world, and I didn't have much difficulty following Kaufman to the end of this first journey....more
As the title promises, this is a great collection of maps through the ages. A visual stunner, it offers introductions to everything from ancient carviAs the title promises, this is a great collection of maps through the ages. A visual stunner, it offers introductions to everything from ancient carvings scratched into exposed stone to the first rendering of the world's ocean floors.
The maps are typically presented in two-page spreads, with another spread following to highlight details in close up. There are ancient mariner charts, metaphorical maps of world faiths and detailed graphical renderings of disease and poverty. The drawings are beautiful to look at and offer an engaging visual timeline as to how knowledge advanced with the maps in these pages.
My biggest complaint is probably unfair, but I wish every map here got more of an explanation. Each could probably stand a full chapter to place it in its proper visual and historic context. I realize that's beyond that scope of what the creators of "Great Maps" were trying to achieve, but I kept wanting more as I read it. (It's not always clear what's being called out in the highlights as well, a relatively minor complaint.)
This is a great collection, though, worthy of a close reading or a nice "pick it up and flip" approach.
My Favorite Maps Carte Pisane Catalan Atlas by Abraham Cresques Fra Mauro's World Map "Indian Territory" Map by Henry Schenck Tanner London Poverty Map by Charles Booth World Ocean Floor by Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen...more
A charming comic memoir from a young cook and cartoonist. Creator Lucy Knisley walks us through her life so far, taking us from an early girlhood in NA charming comic memoir from a young cook and cartoonist. Creator Lucy Knisley walks us through her life so far, taking us from an early girlhood in New York City to growing up in the country, where her mother moved to start a garden and a catering business. Along with her early life, Knisley covers the meals that have meant the most to her, from chocolate-chip cookies to fresh-from-the-soil mushrooms.
It's an enjoyable read. Her voice and her art are fresh and appealing. The writing has a welcome enthusiasm as well as some nice side gags when it comes to the illustrated recipes. The art is expressive and clean, with a beautiful use of color.
At the same time, the story feels a little slight. Knisley is still very young when we reach the endpoint of this graphic memoir, and it didn't seem like there was enough experience here to add up to a fully realized narrative. Indeed, the story is as much about her parents as herself, and she's very careful to cast them in a positive light, even when their judgment may be questionable. (Her father's suggested womanizing, for instance, or her mother's perhaps overcasual care when traveling with teens in foreign countries.)
At the same time, despite her protests about being a broke student, Knisley seems a little blind to her own privilege. Not every wannabe foodie or artist gets trips to Mexico and Japan in under their belts before they're fifteen. Nor do they have an expert chef in their household, an extended culinary support network or lifelong access to gourmet treats.
Still, Knisley is very open, appealing and likable. I'd enjoy seeing other work by her when she's not the primary focus. Some sketches here of the kitchen at Alinea offer a start at a fascinating alternative....more
A breezy visual look of European history from 1815 to after World War II, as defined by the nation's borders. The book's format has the left-page textA breezy visual look of European history from 1815 to after World War II, as defined by the nation's borders. The book's format has the left-page text describes the right-page map, whether that's battle maneuvers, ceded territories or growing cities. McEvedy does a good job distilling the complex history down to a few paragraphs, and he's not afraid to poke fun at the statesmen of the era either. Sometimes his commentary can be a little too dismissive, but this is a nice visual reference and a fun read on top of that....more