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Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,775 ratings  ·  376 reviews
A writer’s search for inspiration, beauty, and solace leads her to birds in this meditation on creativity and life – a field guide to things small and significant.

In 2012, Kyo Maclear met a musician with a passion for birds. Curious about what had prompted a young urban artist to suddenly embrace nature she decided to follow him for a year to find out.

Observing two artists
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 3rd 2017 by Scribner
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  1,775 ratings  ·  376 reviews

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Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites

This book isn't for everyone, but it was definitely for me.

This is a meditation, a pause, a break. It's an artist who had to take a year to calm down and step back.. through bird watching. Like What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I read and loved earlier this year, I don't care any more about birdwatching than I do about running. Sure these books are about birds and running but really they're about how those things affect the writers. This was about reconn
Diane S ☔
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book that found me at the perfect moment. I was feeling stressed with all the things that needed to be done before Christmas, anxiety ridden because time was running out. I started reading this book at night, a month at a time, loved how this bookman divided by months, and since the author was also having a problem with anxiety, her struggles helped me with my own. Of course hers were forma different and more important reason than mine were, her father's failing health, feeling closed in and ...more
Emer (A Little Haze)
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of gentle prose seeking stillness
Upon closing the last pages of this book I feel as if I should bow my head in silence, speak only in whispered tones. Make some sort of reverential gesture. I really didn't know what to expect from reading a book about bird watching but this... This felt so much more than anything I could have hoped for.

In this memoir, writer Kyo Maclear writes about the year when she followed in the footsteps of a musician friend as he went out birding. She had been intrigued by this fellow artist's immense pa
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, 2016-books, birds
"Birds Art Life" is the type of book that asks to be read slowly, with contemplation. I found that my enjoyment of the book increased as I set it aside for several days after reading, and then went back to review my notes before writing this review.

When Kyo Maclear's father faces a grave and terminal illness, she looks for a way to manage her own grief an anxiety about her father's health. On the recommendation of and with the help of a friend, she takes up bird watching deciding to enjoy small
David Schaafsma
I read this book because I am a fan of Kyo Maclear's picture books such as Julia, Child; The Liszts; Virginia Wolf, all adorably illustrated whimsical clever books. I also had thought I should this year read outside of my comfort zone once in a while and read a non-fiction reflective book, maybe sort of right for midwinter. And I have bird feeders and sometimes go on little birding expeditions in the (urban) area where I live. I say "little" having hoped this book might be a book about urban bir ...more
Nov 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
What drew me to this book was the fact that it had to do with the author’s year discovering birds. I spent 3 years with a group of birdwatchers, led by a bird enthusiast, that I absolutely loved. Much like the author, I found that communing with nature and birds was a peaceful, calming activity.

The author reflects on much throughout this book. She decided to take up this activity as she needed a distraction (her Dad’s illness) and she needed a creative boost.

“ I want for every overextended perso
Troubled by her father’s ill health and feeling generally a bit stuck in her career and relationships, children’s book author Kyo Maclear (I loved her The Liszts) undertook a year of birdwatching in her native Toronto, with a bird-loving musician as her guide. “I wanted a road map back to my art, my equanimity,” she writes. Unfortunately, I loved the premise more than the execution: the book is, perhaps necessarily, somewhat flighty and unfocused, with the sketches, lists and quotes detracting f ...more
4.5 stars. Lovely language created lovely images in my head. Kyo Maclear begins this book with her father's ill health, and the grief she's feeling. This leads her eventually to meeting a musician, who agrees to let her accompany him for a year of birdwatching.
The book is populated with Maclear's at times gorgeous prose and sketches, and her meditations on many things, including birds. She becomes aware of the birds around her, and gains some peace from them.
I'm by no means a serious birdwatche
Briar's Reviews
Book Review
Book Title: Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation
Book Author: Kyo Maclear

Introduction: I was craving some inspirational nonfiction, so I decided to pick this book up. I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads for an honest review.


"Every love story is a potential grief story" - Kyo Maclear reference - Julian Barnes's Levels of Life.

This book is an inspirational gem that truly surprised me. I never expected a book about watching birds to be one of my favourite
Samantha Kilford
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sent-to-me
If the books I review on this website are indicative of something, it's that I don't read a lot of non-fiction. I'm the person who'd much rather an action packed novel about, say, an alien invasion than a long study debating alien existence full of essays and scientific evidence.

On the rare occasions where I do venture into the non-fiction territory, it's mainly to read memoirs. The last one I read being John Pearson's The Profession of Violence about the Kray twins which not only follows your
I simply loved how this book focused on aloneness, grief and smallness. While I was listening to it, it was a time to relax and heard about not only birds but also growth as an artist and a human being.
David Yoon
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Exploring the nature of art, creativity and paying better attention to the world around you without expectation. It is about the perverse audacity of aiming tiny and giving yourself permission to be creative.

This is and isn’t a woo-woo self-help book in the same way it is and it isn’t an autobiography about the time immediately following the time her father suffered two strokes. It’s a meandering, playful, chat with a curious mind.

It’s Anne Lamont meets Cheryl Strayed with a distinctly Canadia
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
*ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a honest review, thanks again*

really. damn. good.
After reading this book you feel like you know everything about the author and how she perceives the world around her. The way Maclear writes makes you feel included, it felt natural, like you're old friends and she's just telling you where she's been.
In short, this book is an exploration of self and the world, which stays with you.
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I knew birds were not trivial. They were constantly chirping, and what they were saying, or what I heard them say, was Stand up. Look around. Be in the world.

Birds Art Life is a hipstery memoir – Toronto-based writer Kyo Maclear drops the names of arthouse movies and indie musicians that I've never heard of (in the acknowledgements, Maclear even thanks a Jason Logan for the “street-harvested pigments” she used in the pen and ink sketches for this book; and if that ain't hipster, I don't know
Smitha Murthy
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves books with meaning and depth.
Recommended to Smitha by: Vishy
If I could, I would rate this 6. A sweet friend in Chennai sent me this book earlier this year, saying in a note that the title and subtitle of this book, ‘The Art of Noticing the Small and Insignificant,’ reminded him of me. “I thought it was written for you,” he said, “because it talks about things that you deeply believe in..” It was one of the touching things anyone has ever done for me, and made me feel like my life is not a waste if I have made at least one person think of the ‘right’ thin ...more
Clare O'Beara
This book appears to have been re-released very promptly as Birds Art Life, probably because someone at the publishing house remembered that memoirs with a positive title sell better than memoirs with a negative title.

The tale is rather disjointed and rambling, and I have to say does not do birds, art or life very well. The author is forced to confront mortality after her father gets a diagnosis of serious illness. She could have thrown herself into many purposes, like bringing up her two small
3 to 3.5 stars.

This book is a memoir about the author, Kyo Maclear, deciding to go bird watching for a year. But really this book isn't about birds, Maclear uses birds to talk about art, life and death, as the title suggests. I did like this book, though at times I thought some sections were a bit boring or explaining someone that was kind of cliche. However, I do listen to a lot of podcasts and interviews about artists discussing their work, art, life and ideas, so that's maybe why I found some
Christopher Jones
Give yourself a treat, escape for a few hours with this little gem ! ❤️I can’t quite put my finger on why exactly I liked this but I did ❤️
Aug 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This was not the right book for me, but I am weirdly reluctant to give it fewer stars - perhaps because I can see why it was perfect for the friend who recommended it to me, perhaps because it is so earnest and occasionally says just the right thing in just the right way.

Birds Art Life is not really a book about birds, although like Maclear's ostensible subjects, it is on the flighty side. The author, guided by a musician/birding friend, sets out on a year of watching birds in Toronto and using
Jiny S
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is the author’s reflection on a year’s journey following a birding musician, her recognition of the importance of freedom and art, and her meditation on the beautiful small things in life. With eloquent poses, it’s very soothing listening to the author talking about her muses, her family, and her very calming adventures with the musician.

The author is rich- to put it bluntly- and not in the sense of financial means. She’s so rich that she could afford every little thing life has to off
Mousy Brown
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Feeling "unmoored " by my own Fathers illness and sudden death, I found myself tethered again by the recognition of similar themes within the pages of this book. Words so eloquently described my emotions and confirmed my confidence in the 'nature cure' ...
A beautiful, brief reflection on birds and their significance to us as humans, the place art has in our souls, on life and what keeps us living...a book that will stay with me for far longer than it took to read...
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A quiet meditation about birds, the creation of art and life in general. This is a very quiet and contemplative book. I found it refreshing to read. It was poetic and very thoughtful.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Reading "A Year of Observation" is like going into meditation. There is stillness, a quietness, that pervades as Kyo Maclear's words spring forth. I saw myself sitting at a small kitchen table, in the slanting afternoon sun, with a cup of coffee, the hushed tones of a reflective conversation filling the air. That's the kind of calm that Maclear brings.

Maclear's book derives its energy from birds. When her musician friend introduced her to birdwatching, Maclear learnt to patiently observe. But i
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
oh how soothing this was to read. this brought me serenity even when it roamed not so serene topics like loneliness and falling and motherhood and such things. i just felt the little significances that were given to everything. bird watching. what a breakthrough! have we all been bird watching? is it a part of the human unconscious psyche? this book reminded me of my bird watching as a kid. i felt good reading this.
For a long time I did not tell anyone I was writing a book about birds. Depending on my mood I referred to this book as "a project," "some bits of writing," and, finally, and probably most correctly: "a sketch book."
This quiet memoir is more a book about life and art (writing), than it is about birds. I went into it hoping for a gentle nature memoir, and although it was not quite what I was expecting, I felt it won me over pretty quickly, and for that reason I'd give it a 3.5 star rating.

Emily Crow
This is one of those books it's a bit hard for me to rate, because although it wasn't a bad book by any means, it simply wasn't what I was expecting and so I feel a bit disgruntled about that. Since I found it in the nature section of (sadly going out of business) Book World, and the cover has birds all over it and states "A Year of Observation," I thought that birds would be the main topic. As it turns out, the book is only tangentially about birds: the author tags along with a birder for sever ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
“When he fell in love with birds and began to photograph them, his anxieties dissipated.
The sound of birdsong reminded him to look outward at the world.”

“He had discovered his joy was bird-shaped.”

“It was a relief to be back with the bird-loving weirdos, soaking up their stand-and-stare vibe, basking in the still night air that carried not even a breath of wind.”

“Birding is more than an activity. It's a disposition. Keep your eyes and ears and mind open to beauty.”

“If you listen to birds, every
Sophie Potter
I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a review.

I'm interested in birds, in memoirs and increasingly in art, so this book really should have been a slam-dunk for me. However, I ended up feeling that it was just a bit too much of a little book- it touched on so many things but never really fully engaged on any level. The proof I received was however beautifully designed and laid out. If you are a fan of smaller, vignette-style writing, this is almost certainly the boo
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
There were some passages and sections that I found engaging, but a lot of this I skimmed. At times, I felt the writing was pretty mediocre.
A beautiful meditation on the relationship between nature, looking, stillness and creativity.
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Kyo Maclear is a children’s author, novelist and essayist. She was born in London, England and moved to Toronto at the age of four.

Kyo is the author of several critically-acclaimed children’s books including: Spork (2010) and Virginia Wolf (2012), both illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; Mr. Flux (2013), illustrated by Matte Stephens; Julia, Child (2014), illustrated by Julie Morstad; The Specific

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