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Since there's no bird watching section, I guess this is the place to post this. 


This is a book about a man (A.J. Baker) who develops an interest in bird watching and specifically takes an interest in peregrines. He details his fascination over the course of several months in the early sixties and follows the birds around the South of England. 


read it based on several excellent reviews. It's generally considered one of the best nature books. 


The first two chapters detailing his interest in bird watching were indeed exquisite. The prose is gorgeous and sets up a passion which borders on obsession. His use of metaphor and simile are amazing. But I have to say, I found the diary portion to be hugely repetitive with endless descriptions of the same colours, the same landscapes, the same north easterly winds, the same list of birds (woodpigeon, lapwing, plover on and on). He occasionally returns to the wonderful language seen in the opening chapters, usually when he tangents onto a separate, more personal subject. There's one where he details the way animals fear humans and he describes humans as stinking of death; and another when he describes his encounter with a fox. But other than that, it just repeats, repeats, repeats.


Reading those opening chapters got me very excited about what was to come but the following diary section was a rather dull and turgid experience. I got the impression it was one of those books that one reviewer loved, then another, then another, until eventually, it developed an unwarranted reputation for excellence based on the poetic beauty of those opening two chapters. The fact is, the diary stuff doesn't match up to that. None the less, I definitely embraced Baker's passion for the subject matter. And I recognised his obvious gift for language. I just wish he would have more eagerly applied it to the latter half of the book. Or perhaps some fiction. The diary section only came to life for me when he expressed his opinion rather than when he described the same identical actions and events over and over. 


I highly recommend the opening chapters. Some of the most beautiful prose I've ever come across.


After that... not so much.

Edited by hux
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An example of what makes the book great.


"No pain, no death is more terrible to a wild creature than its fear of man. A red-throated diver, sodden and obscene with oil, able to move only its head, will push itself out from the sea wall with its bill if you reach down to it as it floats like a log in the tide. A poisoned crow, gaping and helplessly floundering in the grass, bright yellow foam bubbling from its throat, will dash itself up again and again on to the descending wall of air, if you try to catch it. A rabbit, inflated and foul with myxomatosis, just a twitching pulse beating in a bladder of bones and fur, will feel the vibrations of your footstep and will look for you with bulging, sightless eyes. Then it will drag itself away into a bush, trembling with fear.


We are the killers. We stink of death. We carry it with us. It sticks to us like frost. We cannot tear it away."

Edited by hux
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This is normally the kind of book I would love, since I adored H is for Hawk, but I know what you mean about uneven books and I don't have much patience for them.


I am a birdwatcher, although not insanely so.  I have 2 or 3 friends who have the same interest and we share books and sitings, but don't generally admit to the interest to other people.  One of them, who lives near San Antonio, sent me these 2 books, both of which I recommend:


A Supremely Bad Idea by Luke Dempsey is one of the funniest books I have ever read about anything.  Probably funnier if you have any interest in bird watching, but hilarious no matter what.


The Big Year by Mark Obmascik is not quite as funny, but is still amusing and almost unbelievable.  A "Big Year" means that someone sees every possible bird in some area (here, North America--Attu Island is part of the geographical area and appears to be hell on earth).   Near the end of the book I sent my friend a text and said that I would never ever ever want to try to achieve a Big Year.  He said as far as he could tell, only men took a fun hobby and turned it into an endurance sport.  But that has turned me off of bird watching festivals because they often have a "big day," which sounds similarly grueling, if for only a day.  Texas is on one of the major North American flyways and so has a lot of bird festivals.  This book was made into a movie with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black.  I have not seen the movie.


Whenever we did something outdoorsy, I would tell my children that the most dangerous animal they could encounter is another human.



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