Thursday, 9 February 2017

Birds Art Life Death: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear

Book Review

Birds Art Life Death by Kyo Maclear - Reading, Writing, Booking Blog

"There are no big reasons to live. Just little reasons."

Birds Art Life Death: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant is released today in the UK (9th February 2017). It is written by Kyo Maclear and published by Fourth Estate.

Here's something a little different; if you're a regular reader of my blog you'll know that I read a lot of fiction, but this little nonfiction gem intrigued me when I saw it on NetGalley. An exploration of birding, it sounds like it will be dull beyond reason, but it's actually about the appreciating the small beauties in the world.


One winter Kyo Maclear became unmoored. Her father had recently fallen ill and she suddenly found herself lost for words. As a writer, she could no longer bring herself to create; her work wasn't providing the comfort and meaning that it had before.

But then Kyo met a musician who loved birds. The musician felt he could not always cope with the pressures and disappointments of being an artist in a big city. When he watched birds and began to photograph them, his worries dissipated. Intrigued, Kyo found herself following the musician for a year, accompanying him on his bird-watching expeditions; the sounds of the birds in the city reminded them both to look outwards at the world.

Intricate and delicate as birdsong, Birds Art Life Death asks how our passions shape and nurture us, and how we might gain perspective, overcome our anxieties and begin to cherish the urban wild spaces where so many of us live.

I read Birds Art Life Death at the right time for me. It's been a rather miserable January in the world (one word, Trump), and also a slow and rather stunted one for me; lots of ideas, no money, depressing weather and feeling a little 'what now.' This book is a breath of fresh air and it reminded me to focus on the smaller things in life and not always race to achieve. Yes, it sounds like a stereotypical self-help book, and it definitely has elements of that, but the concept of following a birder for a year gave it a really refreshing feel.

I like the way Maclear sets out the book, splitting it into seasons and annotating it with sketches, facts and quotes.

Illustrations from Birds Art Life Death by Kyo Maclear - Reading, Writing, Booking Blog

She walks a tightrope between keeping the tone light while covering tough topics, but at the same time trying not to fall into the trap of being pretentious and overly wallowing. I won't lie, sometimes she does this, and the introspection becomes a bit too much. But she's quite good at pulling it back to reality and stop it getting too bogged down in self-help overkill.

"Now I spend hours trying to spot tiny distant creatures that don't give a shit if I see them or not. I spend most of my time loving something that won't ever love me back. Talk about a lesson in insignificance."

Maclear often quotes other authors and birders, with some wise words inserted here and there. However, it does become a bit overpopulated at some points. Mostly they add to the narrative but sometimes there are so many that it's a bit overwhelming and takes away from the minimalist aspect of the books.

I like the honesty in Birds Art Life Death; it's a very honest book on both subjects both big and small, such as death, motherhood, immigration, culture, friendship etc.

I also like going on the trip with her to become a 'birder.' She knows next to nothing about birds at the start and it felt very much the way I would go about it.

Maclear encourages the reader to look for both birds and beauty in the unlikeliest places, or rather 'The Musician' does who encourages her to search for birds in the urban expanse of Toronto.

"Birding is more than an activity. It's a disposition. Keep your eyes and ears and mind open to beauty. Look for birds in unprecious places, beside fast-food restaurants and in mall parking lots."

I can't say I desperately want to go bird-watching now, but as I live in the countryside there are always birds around and since reading Birds Art Life Death I have definitely been more aware of them and have paused to appreciate their beauty.

Maclear is a children's book author, I've never read any of her books but I think I'll take a look.

My Rating: 3.5 (rounded up to 4 for Goodreads and NetGalley)

I received a digital copy of the book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. My thanks to the author and publisher.

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