Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

This is a book which almost defies description. It’s a memoir, yes, but that’s only a part of it.There’s lists, anecdotes, quotes from books and movies(but not the usual ones) and the author’s whimsical drawings throughout.
Subtitled “A Year of Observation”, it chronicles a year in the author’s life when illness in the family and a number of stresses was affecting her life as an artist, so to divert herself, she began to birdwatch. She explains “Or maybe I discovered something more fundamental:worry is a constriction.A mind narrows when it has too much to bear. Art is not born of unwanted constriction.Art wants formless And spacious quiet, antisocial daydreaming, time away from the consumptive volume of everyday life.”
Though nature writing has always been a mainstay of my reading materials, I don’t know if I’ve ever read an account of someone when they begin to pay attention to birds and nature. A lifelong resident of Toronto in Canada, Maclear suddenly notices how much of the natural world can be found around the cosmopolitan city. A musician friend (who also provides the b&w photos), introduces her to birding hot spots, field guides and the pleasure of stillness in order to watch birds going about their ordinary activities. She also finds the underlying sadness that can occur, quoting Meghan Daum “Every day on earth is a minefield of animal tragedies.”
Woven through her increasing interest in birds are family memories, introspection and philosophy. She talks about growing up as the only child of immigrant parents who are very different temperamentally. She recounts meeting her husband and cute stories about their children. Musings upon the environment, bravery, death, isolation and the similar behaviors of children and the elderly. Sometimes, I found her comments too close to home, touching on subjects that I have also experienced. Her introspection and range of reading adds great depth to this memoir and added to all the other qualities, makes it quite a rewarding reading experience.

Scribner 2017 223 pp. ISBN 978-1-5011-5420-1

One comment on “Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

  1. Cynthia's Biblio -Files
    October 9, 2017

    Sounds a fascinating book. Your description puts me in mind of ‘H is for Hawk’ which I read last year.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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