This book isn’t so much about birding and birdwatching as it is a meandering of ideas that uses birding as the mai“what to make of a diminished thing”
This book isn’t so much about birding and birdwatching as it is a meandering of ideas that uses birding as the main focus. It’s tempting to call this a literary critique of birdwatching as literature appears almost as much as the birds.
Rosen frequently calls back to writers and poets, such as Thoreau, Whitman and Frost, but also those who may be more obvious such as Audubon, Darwin and Wallace. (Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the idea of evolution through natural selection at the same time as Darwin.)
The frame of the book is an attempt to find a bird that was claimed extinct but recently spotted – the ivory-bill woodpecker. This one bird can represent both despair and hope at the same time. The reason the bird went extinct was due to human logging of old growth forests. Hope is that it still survives, remained hidden all these years. Despair in that we have realized that our species can cause many other species to go extinct. Then hope in the attempt, or struggle to reverse that trend. Hope and despair is often found in the book.
The second half of the book Rosen goes to Israel for birding. Jewish heritage, history, religion, and of course the holocaust comes up. Perhaps the latter is brought into the book as a somewhat relation to the extinction of the ivory-bill and the attempted extinction of the Jewish people, both brought about by humans, albeit one consciously and the other unwittingly. This is just one example of the various connections Rosen brings up throughout.
There are some lines, some quirks to the book I haven’t seen before or extremely rare. At one point Rosen talks about lying and then reveals his story early in the book about how he started his habit of birdwatching is a lie. That’s curious. If you’re going to state it correctly why do that? You can edit. And occasionally there are moments that Rosen seems to think what the critics may say about his book and in this anticipation he brings up the idea and then answers it as well. Such as in the epilogue he writes: “Can a book about birdwatching sustain a reference to the horrors human beings inflict on each other?” The horrors he means specifically the holocaust. This oddness does remind me of a few authors who have written similarly. They think they know what people will say then dispute it within the same book. I don’t particularly like the tactic but can understand the motivation. They wish for a stronger argument within the book. But what is Rosen’s argument? That the environment is diminished for the birds?
“what to make of a diminished thing” This phrase comes up quite frequently. Rosen doesn’t quite answer it, as it is more a meditation, something to ponder rather than something to be fully answered. But if he does provide a hint of an answer for the reader it is found in the last pages: “We need to know that we are asking it about ourselves as well as the world around us.”
I really enjoyed the book, but not in the way I expected. I thought it would be more about birdwatching than a meandering of literary references and more. But I liked it. I’m sure some, who really are more interested in just the birdwatching aspect might find it tedious. There is a lot in this book, many digressions and sometimes the bird portion just seems like a thin veil to get to what he really wants to talk about. But it is interesting, there’s surprises on nearly every page, not knowing where this is going or where you’ll really end up.
Final note – didn’t like there isn’t an index, and this book really needs an index! Why this trend in non-fiction books to get rid of useful things such as references and indexes (indices)? At least he included notes on sources.
After reading the intro and a couple of the first few essays I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue. But the book isn't long so why not read it all? JuAfter reading the intro and a couple of the first few essays I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue. But the book isn't long so why not read it all? Just as I finished I felt satisfied to have done so.
I'm not a birder, nor want to be one, but I would like to appreciate the birds flying around a little more. This book helps with that, and attempts to bring the wild into suburbia. The author says he lives in a densely populated area, yet he goes for 90 minute wild walks locally every day. He seeks out these wilderness places to walk, enjoys nature and particularly looks for birds. He also lives on the edge of undeveloped land, so that helps too.
The chapter on owning and maintaining a bird feeder was of particular interest, mainly because so many people have them. There's another chapter about the numbers, keeping lists, going out for big count days. Another enjoyable chapter was about owls, and one about other animals such as foxes, squirrels and coyotes. Did I learn much about specific birds? Well...maybe a little about hawks and owls, but overall not really, not specifically enough to where I would be able to identify or pick out a type of bird. This isn't that type of book. Maybe it is a book for the bird loving folk, but I got something out of it too. ...more
This book is my kind of book: Environmentalism and American Literature through the history of The United States. The authors and books discussed at leThis book is my kind of book: Environmentalism and American Literature through the history of The United States. The authors and books discussed at length are predominantly the top-notch authors. Raskin doesn't linger on other authors or books that are more environmental yet lack the "great American novel" stature. And when we come to modern times, post-1950 where the wilderness literature explodes, the book tapers off and ends. It felt like this is the first of two volumes, where another volume for what was more recently published is next. Although that is not likely going to happen. Here and there very modern books are tossed in, shown how they are tied in theme to the main book being discussed, but only a sentence or two. I did long for more.
A very readable (unlike many literary criticism books) and enlightening book. Heartily recommend if you like this type of thing.
Book rating: 4.5 stars. (so wish goodreads would allow the half-stars!)...more
Excellent. A great set of very short stories. A little of magical realism derived from nature, mostly animals and a few from plants as well. Overall tExcellent. A great set of very short stories. A little of magical realism derived from nature, mostly animals and a few from plants as well. Overall the stories are about observation, listening and paying attention to the natural world....more