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Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation

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Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation PDF, ePub eBook 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 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 through seasonal shifts and migrations, Birds Art Life Death celebrates the particular madness of chasing after birds in a big city, and explores what happens when the principles of birdwatching are applied to other aspects of art and life. It looks at the ecology of urban spaces and the creative and liberating effects of keeping your eyes and ears wide open. Far from seeking the exotic, Kyo discovers joy in the birds she spots in city parks and harbours, along eaves and on wires. In a world that values big and fast, Kyo begins to look to the small, steady, slow accumulations of knowledge, and the lulls that give way to contemplation. Moving between the granular and the grand, peering into the inner landscape as much as the outer one, Birds Art Life Death asks how we are shaped and nurtured by our passions, and how we might come to love and protect not only the world’s natural places but also the challenging urban spaces where so many of us live.

30 review for Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

    A NEW FAVOURITE!!! YAY!!! 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 A NEW FAVOURITE!!! YAY!!! 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 reconnecting with nature, thinking about what success in art means, reflecting on how our relationships affect our work.. I loved it! I picked this up because of the cover and I'm so glad that I did. Now I can firmly recommend that you pick this up because of the content (but also the cover, let's be real, it's beautiful).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    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 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 worried about losing her creativity. Married, with two young boys, she, with the help of a bird loving musician friend, takes to walking and noticing the birds in her vicinity. I loved that she looked form and learned about the common birds in her area, studying books, and learning patience in her struggle. I loved the month where she discusses the importance of little things, how sometimes they are overlooked for bigger things, bigger gestures. She goes on to lost small books that had big messages, made a big impact. Reminded me that taking things a little at a time was less overwhelming. Another month discusses authors who had an outside hobby and how they seemed more content, well rounded. Many other insightful discussions, a great resource for writers and non writers alike. Enjoyed this very much.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emer (A Little Haze)

    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 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 passion in such an almost benign hobby and took to birding alongside him to help her cope with the every day anxieties of being a mother, a wife and daughter to an ailing father. This was about learning to be still while living under the watchful eye of expectant grief. By no means am I a bird watcher. I feed garden birds in Winter and will sit happily in the park in Summer watching the ducks and the swans. But that has traditionally been the extent of my interest and my knowledge. So you could say that I am not really the target audience for a book about birds. And yet I was utterly entranced by this. I was intrigued by the ideas of urban bird watching. It wasn't something that I would have expected. The juxtaposition of the coldness of urbanity with the softness of nature was a breath of fresh air to me. It made the idea of birding very accessible to a novice like me but conversely gave great pause for thought about the impact of ever evolving ecologies on some of our smallest of neighbours and how quickly it can take a species to become extinct. (Case study Passenger Pigeon) And yet this book was so much more than bird watching. It felt as if I was reading someone's innermost thoughts and I was specially invited to be a passenger with them on their journey of discovery and self-acceptance over the course of a year. There were many wonderful moments of insight into being an artist, a mother, a daughter and a wife. It felt natural. Honest. And at times there were passages of such pure clarity about life and living. Kyo Maclear is traditionally known as a children's book author. And in this book she has taken the simplicity that is required for writing for children and poured it into a beautiful journal of words. I found myself being very moved on a number of occasions throughout the read. On one occasion she talked about how becoming part of the birding scene was akin to 'disappearing into the crowd' and how it was refreshing and reinvigorating to not always have to 'individuate, or to be your own you'. It was as she said the perfect 'antidote to the artist ego'. I read an e-version of this book but I have held and looked through a physical hardback copy and I have to say that it is a thing of beauty. And it is as much a visual feast for the eyes as a feast for our word-loving souls. I will definitely be adding it to my bookcase. I would very much recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in birds but mostly to anyone who is just looking to be still. To be quiet. To pause a moment amidst this hectic world of ours. This is a book to nourish the soul. To reinvigorate and revitalise the tired and weary mind. four and a half stars rounded up to five *A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins UK: 4th Estate, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    "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 "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 spots of nature every day rather than epic versions of wilderness and escape. Maclear beautifully reflects on the way that her new pastime changes her ability to view the world: "If you hope to see something, especially the notably elusive, you will learn to wait, like a devotee or a sanguine lover. You will choose your sitting spot and then you will just sit there. You will sit there, in the wind or drippy cold, waiting for the possibility of something beautiful to appear. You will discover that the magic of a sitting spot is that it teaches you to go nowhere. If you are lucky, it will bring birds closer, or you closer to noticing them." Maclear isn't just talking about birds here -- it's a way of life. Biriding is her new meditation. Her new way to make sense of the world. The new prescription for the anxieties of life. Some may liken this book to H is for Hawk. I actually found Maclear's work to be more approachable, relatable, and frankly more moving. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    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 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 birding that actually would nudge me more into Serious Birding? And then, I am a person who used to write more for myself instead of all these Goodreads reviews, and was hoping I could find my way back to fiction. Kyo Maclear is stuck, a little lost, and hopes to find her way back to her art, her writing. Her Dad seems to be failing. I like this passage: “It is possible too that I was experiencing something known as 'anticipatory grief,' the mourning that occurs before a certain loss. Anticipatory. Expectatory. Trepidatory. This grief had a dampness. It did not drench or drown me, but it hung in the air like a pallid cloud, thinning but never entirely vanishing. It followed me wherever I went and gradually I grew used to looking at the world through it.” It's also something else, her just being overwhelmed by attending to her ailing father, her kids, her relationship, her work. A reader, she tries to read herself back to her art, writing down quotes she hopes will be helpful, but one day she meets a musician who is a birder. She decides to follow him for a year in his observation of birds. She's trying to shrink her life, slow down, get back to its essentials, maybe be happier again. It's not really, as it turns out, about the birds. It's about her own rejuvenation. The result is a kind of commonplace book, a whimsical book of reflections, including lists of artists who think small or are associated with smallness, or lists of artists who were birders, with quotes from various thinkers on topics related to stuck-ness and the process of artistic creation, all organized by a chapter-a-month in one year around themes like waiting, regrets, faltering, roaming. It's a kind of restless, roaming book and not exactly what I was hoping for; as reflective as it is on one level, it also feels like it doesn't get quite as deep as I hoped with respect to art or Her Stressful Contemporary Moment or even birds: I really, really wanted more about the birds, and this isn't what it is about, okay! I am reminded of a YA text I actually love about the relationship between drawing birds and growing up, by Gary Schmidt, Okay for Now, where a boy learns to see how Audubon's birds are really about his own life, in a way, as he copies the birds Audubon drew that he finds in a library display, with the help of an artist-librarian. That book made me feel the connections between art, birds and life more than I Maclear's book, but at a glance I see this did work for a lot of Goodreads readers. I think Maclear really does seem to find her life back again through reading and writing and observing birds and slowing down, and this is what you want to hear, that it can happen for yourself, too. I am not really at this moment feeling lost (except this wanting to figure how to get back to fiction), but I suppose the thing her book most teaches you is that there is no One Path, no Guru, no Teacher, who will take you back to yourself. You have to find your own way. That's a good thing to know or remember. "In the Garden," from the album No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, by Van Morrison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8Cnh...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    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 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 from rather than adding to the narrative. I did, however, like the list of the “spark birds” that kindled various figures’ interest in birding. Some favorite lines: “I understand getting stuck. I understand wanting to make a change while circling around the same neural cage. … Yet in an effort to hoard solitude and keep people out, there is a risk that all you end up doing is fencing yourself in.” “I had always felt an allegiance to the migratory and rootless: to those of no place and many places, who (out of necessity) had developed the ability to move and adapt quickly.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lata

    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 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 birdwatcher, but have been soothed, amazed and endlessly diverted by the antics of the birds in my neighbourhood. I found myself becoming calmer while reading this small memoir.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Kilford

    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 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 standard biography format, but is very different from today's featured novel about bird-watching. Kyo Maclear's memoir, Birds Art Life Death, is like no memoir I've ever read before. Broken up into seasons packed with little sketches and quotes, Birds Art Life Death is Maclear's story about coping with death, motherhood, culture, friendship, love and immigration while following her musician pal on his bird-watching ventures. Not only was Maclear's writing stunning and lyrical, but I liked the honesty in her words. Throughout her journey, she tackles quite heavy and tough subject matters, but does them in a way that doesn't feel overbearing and self-wallowing. We've all read autobiographies where the author comes across as super pretentious, but Maclear's introspective musings were very intriguing. I adored the insights into her life as not just a mother and a wife, but a daughter to an ailing father. Maclear transitions through these topics so effortlessly with such natural sincerity. Despite taking the odd bird snap for Instagram and knowing all the words to Nelly Furtado's 2000 bop "I'm Like a Bird", I am not an avid bird-watcher. I did find myself having to take to Google when Maclear launched into descriptions of the birds or quoted other authors with a passion for birding. I felt at times it could be excessive. It often took away from the smooth narrative, but other than that I did enjoy learning more about birding and liked how Birds Art Life Death encourages the reader to look for birds and beauty in our surroundings no matter how urban they may be. After reading Birds Art Life Death, I would say that I've come to appreciate bird-watching more now than I did. Will I do it? Quite possibly. I live in a part of Wales which isn't overwhelmingly rural nor is it totally urban, so perhaps one day I may go birding or at least take more time to value their beauty. But this book was more than just birds, I feel an immense appreciation to Maclear for allowing us as readers to follow both her and her musician friend's journey of discovery. Birds Art Life Death is a moving and refreshing memoir. Whether you have a keen interest in birds or not, I would recommend it. There were so many poignant moments in the book that just spoke to me and made me reflect on life. It serves as the perfect reminder for fellow busy types who get caught up in the frantic pace of everyday life to just take a moment to relax, be still and appreciate the beauty of nature and our world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    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. 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 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. 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 reads of the year. There are numerous quotes that are truly amazing from this novel, and now I want to pick up many more Kyo Maclear novels. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs a pick me up. Difficult topics are discussed within this novel, but it gives you a very different view on life. It's not just a book about birds - it's a book about humans too. While there are facts within this book about birds, it's not just an encyclopedia. Kyo Maclear explains movements throughout life and how changes can be dealt with through analogies, metaphors and similes. Overall, it's a truly impressive book. The more I read this book, the more I appreciated it. While I might not have been able to relate to every topic discussed in it, I truly felt lifted after reading it. With so many inspirational quotes, it was hard to not put a sticky note on almost every page where I found words that just fit with me. "Die knowing something. Die knowing your knowing will be incomplete." - Kyo Maclear. The final two pages of this book gave a list of many, wonderful lessons. Lessons regarding living in general, taking chances, surprises, opening up, relaxation, people, and having a guru in general. Out of this entire book, I felt that these two pages summed the book up better than the synopsis. If you're not going to read the entire book, just reading those two specific pages makes the entire novel worth it. Final Thoughts: I was truly impressed by this book. I was not expecting to get so attached and feel so desperate to continue reading it. Who knew birds could be so interesting? Five out of five stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Romie

    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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    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 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 sections cliche or boring. My favourite section was February where Maclear talks about "small art", making art that might seem meaningless or ordinary. The art isn't life changing or isn't about something that is grand or extraordinary, which she refers to as "big art". Everyone excepts her to create "big art" but she doesn't too and thus she wrote a book about bird watching! I really related to that as someone who loves to paint and create things in general, I feel a pressure to create things that are grand and life changing but sometimes I don't want to create that, I just want to draw my face, or a water bottle or whatever. And then she lists a bunch of artist through out history that created "small art", which I thought was quite interesting.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Yoon

    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 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 Canadian sense of restraint. And it’s just the sort of reassurance that any creative needs once in awhile.

  13. 5 out of 5

    anete

    *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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    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 ❤ 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 ❤️

  15. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    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 w 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 what is) – and the overall effect didn't do a whole lot for me: I didn't find her story to be either mind-openingly unique or relatably universal. On the other hand, I did find Maclear to be likeable, interesting, and unpretentious. This is a fine read, but didn't open my eyes to anything new; I wouldn't widely recommend it, but am also not warning against it. If I am guilty of hiding among tinier people in a tinier parallel world, it is because I am searching for other models of artistic success. The small is a figure of alternative possibility, proof that no matter how much the market tries to force consensus, there will always be those making art where the market isn't looking. In the beginning, Maclear explains that as the only child of divorced immigrant parents, she has had to become the caregiver for her aging father – and with the added demands of a husband, two children, and a writing career, she felt herself becoming “wordless” with “anticipatory grief”. After experiencing a feeling of wanderlust – a desire to roam and free up her “creative and contemplative” mind once again – Maclear found herself drawn to the story of a local musician who takes pictures of birds around Toronto; thought perhaps her own happiness could be bird-shaped. After making contact with him (curiously, Maclear only and always refers to the man as “the musician” in the book, but thanks him by name in the acknowledgements), he agrees to let her follow him on his bird walks for a year. This book is the story of these birds walks and what species they find together, along with Maclear's family history, some sketches and photos of birds, some current events, research that includes lists of famous people and how they relate to her points, and some meditations on the nature of art and creativity. Mostly, it's about the birds. Most of us don't have time for the malady of stillness. Life is too short for longueurs. The idea of sitting for hours on end, on rocks or bits of log, in the cold, for a bird, is the definition of lunacy and silliness. And yet – Maclear writes that when she was working on this project, she often described it to friends as a “sketchbook”, and that feels like an apt description for the finished product: it's a multimedia assemblage; a collage. And ultimately, by looking for birds, she refound her voice. The birds tell me not to worry, that the worries that sometimes overwhelm me are little in the grand scheme of things. They tell me it's all right to be belittled by the bigness of the world. There are some belittlements and diminishments that make you stronger, kinder. I thought that the writing was polished and the thoughts interesting, but it still didn't add up to all that much. Birds Art Life reminded me of Unearthed – another slow-simmer Toronto-set memoir – when I wanted something deeper like H is for Hawk or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Still, not a waste of my time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    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 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 kids, but instead we read of her following a musician around Toronto for a year. With his permission, with some kind of agreement from her husband, and without naming the man. (He is named in the notes at the back, so why not in the text?) This reader finds it very hard to connect with someone apparently ditching her growing family, and refusing to call a man by a name, making him an object or a commodity. Maclear reflects on her much-travelled upbringing and starts to learn to draw. As the musician is diverting himself by taking photos of birds, his hobby being spotting rare birds, she includes some of those photos and draws some birds and other items she sees. If you want to take time out from your life and read about a woman taking time out from her life, you might enjoy this reflective diary. To me the best part is that by the end, Maclear has learned enough to take her sons out birdwatching. I hope this starts a more positive future for the family. I downloaded an ARC from Net Galley. This is an unbiased review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    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 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 these experiences as jumping off points to think about art, relationships, family, anxieties, grief, stillness. For the full first half of the book, I read impatiently, waiting for Maclear to get on with it, stop waffling, quit it with the repetitive stylized writing, and say something interesting about birds already. After realizing that I had perhaps missed the point, I slowed down and began to appreciate more of her meandering observations. I ended up liking a fair number of her observations and thoughts, including the discussion of nature writing: I began to appreciate the books that were more plainly science-minded rather than piously inspirational. Poetry captures the elusive nature of birds, but it is science that allows us to see them with precision and grace. The best books captured the sweet spot between poetic not-knowing and scientific knowing. And of her relationship, which seems to mirror mine: In my husband I see a fellow solitary, a person with his own concentrated, if meandering path, and while I would do anything for him and would choose his company again and again, one of the things I love most about "us" is that we protect each other's independence. [...] The gift of our love is that it has given me an earthed feeling so that I have felt free to float away. There's lots of good stuff in here, but it takes a while to sift through the stuff that doesn't resonate with me. I think most of my issue with Birds Art Life is that I'm a very different person from the author. For an obsessive, one-track-mind person like me, being in her head feels jarringly unfamiliar and overwhelming; Maclear thinks about lots of different things at a time, is anxious about many of them, and devotes far more of her brain space to social relationships than I do. ...all of which is to say, my experience reading this book as an unsociable biologist will likely not be yours. Read if you want musings on life and art with the pretext of birds; Maclear is clearly well-read and chooses great quotes that build on her own essays (and she has the good taste to like Shaun Tan!). Don't expect much info about birds.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jiny S

    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 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 offer; she could afford to slow down and appreciate things without having a goal or worrying about results. She has the luxury of time and freedom, and she uses them like they’re rightful hers. It’s an exceeding rare thing to see. It’s not that she’s above mortal anxieties and family obligations. She experiences grief, anxiety, and the frustration of waiting, but somehow, she’s still hungry for new experiences, catches wanderlust, and has the power to make the calls in her own life. I wish I could be like that. One day I’ll wake up and decide to drop everything and just follow my dreams. When that day comes, I just hope it won’t be because of a terminal illness diagnosis. Part of the allure of this story for me comes from the setting. Both the author and I live in Toronto. But the Toronto she sees is hidden beneath a veil of magic. I don’t remember seeing any exotic birds- unless you count the plucky pigeons at Kipling station who enjoy flapping their wings dangerously close to pedestrians. Obvious those pigeons haven’t read her book and know about the importance of staying in one place. When birds take off and land in a mess, the disturbance of their wings causes confusion and attracts predators, so it’s better to stay in one place and observe. Something like that. All things considered, this is an enchanting book with beautiful words woven together that’s soothing enough to put the reader to sleep.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Smitha Murthy

    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 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’ things at the ‘right’ moment. In ‘Birds, Art, Life, Death,’ I felt the writer was talking to me, and I felt I was hugged by words written by a complete stranger, but who seems like the best friend I could ever have. I sat with a highlighter, and there are hardly any pages that I didn’t use it. The book is a memoir of a year that Maclear spent contemplating life. ‘I was a little lost,’ she admits. Aren’t we all? And what a wonderful lostness it is. There is no self-pity, just a gentle awareness, and a wish to understand life, not reject it. In trying to cope with her father’s illness, and the deepening sense of mortality that his old age brings, Maclear sets out to observe, well, birds. In doing so, she creates on that small canvas the whole of the Universe - profound observations on grief, love, waiting, regrets, questions, and endings. From winter to winter, from December to December, she creates a magical microcosm of life in all its breathtaking beauty. She writes of freedom - ‘that it’s a practice and not a permanent condition.” She talks of how birding helped her embrace the feeling of stillness. “Most of us don’t have time for the malady of stillness.” She asks questions that we all should be asking: What if the pain of not doing something was greater than the pain of doing it? She discovers gently that courage is to be “brave in our persistence.” And finally, she ends with the lessons she learnt from her friend, the musician who showed her the world of birds and who remains unnamed in the book. I came back utterly in love with this observation: “What he really taught me was that the best teachers are not up on a guru throne, doling out shiny answers. They are there in the muck beside you: stepping forward, falling down, muddling through, deepening and enlivening the questions.” Read this book, please.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Swati

    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 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 it was not just birds that she watched. She examined her own life, introspected on her self because "birding is more than an activity. It's a disposition." The book is a compact journal of sorts of everything she thought of and observed during the year that she began birdwatching. If I could I would probably end up quoting three fourths of the book here because every other sentence is a gem. And it's a book I will probably keep returning to, to revisit these gems.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mousy Brown

    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...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    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.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Imi

    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. Kyo M 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. Kyo Maclear is a Canadian mainly children's book author, who decides to take up a new hobby of bird watching in a difficult year; her father is aging and unwell, she feels her career is stalling, and she is raising two young sons who she cannot help but notice share a lot of her own insecurities about life. This is one of those "meta"-memoirs: writers talking about writing, artists talking about art...people who live talking about life? It is also, as Maclear states herself, more of a "sketch book", or a selection of vignettes, rather than a cohesive, developing narrative. I find these kind of books can sometimes become wearisome, and feel overly self-indulgent and unfocused, like reading someone's rambling notes, rather than a clearly crafted "book". And, yes, at times, I did feel this way about this memoir. But having said that, Maclear writes beautifully and it was easy to give in to the escapist, calming feeling of reading her words. Even though there are many digressions and unfocused detours, the moments of beauty and insight made this an entirely worthwhile read. As you may have seen from my updates, I found many chapters of the book wonderfully perspective and quotable. In particular, the chapter on appreciating "smallness":To some people, the desire to do small things and stay small may be perceived as a cop-out, a self-protective position or form of pathological timidity and constriction. Small is a safe harbour. The smaller your goals, the less likely you are to be deflated or "cut down to size." In this sense, a bias towards the small could be a version of low expectations. Or a form of feminized compliance, as in "I don't want to be seen as loud, fat, assertive, or ambitious";Another illuminating chapter explored being content with "lull", when "[w]hat most of us do with a lull is try to fill it, with stuff, with recognizable busyness." I could certainly learn a lot from Maclear here; in the last few years, it feels like my own life has shifted from being full of opportunity and "bigness" (travelling the world, dreaming of ambitious plans after graduation etc.) to something "small" and "constricted" (needing to both back in with my parents put a lot of my plans on hold, possibly indefinitely, for reason outside my control). I'm at the stage where I am trying build a "small" life, but one that I can be content with: I want for every overextended person in my life stretches of unclaimed time and solitude away from the tyranny of the clock, vast space to get bored and lost, waking dreams that take us beyond the calculative surface of things Reading these few chapters in particular, it certainly felt like this book had found me at the right time, and it has given me a lot of ponder. Perhaps, it wasn't quite the book I was expecting (a book about birds), but whatever else it was drew me in and I appreciated reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Storyheart

    A beautiful meditation on the relationship between nature, looking, stillness and creativity.

  25. 4 out of 5

    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 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 several trips around Toronto, briefly describes a bird that they find per chapter, and uses that as a launching point for a digression about her own life and regrets and existential dilemmas, etc. For what it's worth, her little essays are elegantly written and contain the occasional poignant insight (along with the occasional self-indulgent meandering). As I said, it's not a bad book. I would recommend it to fans of literary essays. But not necessarily to bird nerds, as they might end up disappointed, as I was, by how few birds Maclear actually sees.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    “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 “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 day will have a song in it.” I will cheat a bit on this one and just add some quotes, instead of reviewing it. I do love these quotes though and much of her writing. There was a bit more navel-gazing, than I would have preferred but this little book did grow on me. It also really brought to light, the geeky joy of simply being out in nature, in an urban setting or not.

  27. 4 out of 5

    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 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 book for you. Personally I found it enjoyable enough- but just really wanted more!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Margot

    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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I needed this book. We are in the process of moving, as fate would have it, back to Toronto, where most of the book is set. Having lived in Toronto for most of my life, I recognized the places Maclear mentioned; indeed, being a casual birder myself, I have been to them all. Moving is stressful. This book is the perfect antidote. Listen carefully, look and think small, and be aware of the universe that unfolds in front of you. A good mantra to develop and follow. Maclear leads us through each of t I needed this book. We are in the process of moving, as fate would have it, back to Toronto, where most of the book is set. Having lived in Toronto for most of my life, I recognized the places Maclear mentioned; indeed, being a casual birder myself, I have been to them all. Moving is stressful. This book is the perfect antidote. Listen carefully, look and think small, and be aware of the universe that unfolds in front of you. A good mantra to develop and follow. Maclear leads us through each of the preceding steps. This book is one that works best if you read it slowly and pause. Indeed, looking carefully and standing still is a great method to develop as a reader or a birder. This book is a meditation, and Maclear was fortunate enough to have a mentor for her connection to birds. If only we could find such a mentor as the musician. Perhaps, we carry within ourselves the ability to be a mentor. This book could act as either a mentor or offer encouragement to be one ourselves. By now, if you have got this far in the review, you will realize that I have not given the plot, or fleshed out the characters, or discussed literary techniques. Why? Well, simply stated, this is not a novel in the true sense, or a biography either. It is, rather, my opportunity to urge you to find the book and read it. What you will find within its pages may well change your pattern of life.

  30. 5 out of 5

    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. 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 r 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. 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 reads of the year. There are numerous quotes that are truly amazing from this novel, and now I want to pick up many more Kyo Maclear novels. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs a pick me up. Difficult topics are discussed within this novel, but it gives you a very different view on life. It's not just a book about birds - it's a book about humans too. While there are facts within this book about birds, it's not just an encyclopedia. Kyo Maclear explains movements throughout life and how changes can be dealt with through analogies, metaphors and similes. Overall, it's a truly impressive book. The more I read this book, the more I appreciated it. While I might not have been able to relate to every topic discussed in it, I truly felt lifted after reading it. With so many inspirational quotes, it was hard to not put a sticky note on almost every page where I found words that just fit with me. "Die knowing something. Die knowing your knowing will be incomplete." - Kyo Maclear. The final two pages of this book gave a list of many, wonderful lessons. Lessons regarding living in general, taking chances, surprises, opening up, relaxation, people, and having a guru in general. Out of this entire book, I felt that these two pages summed the book up better than the synopsis. If you're not going to read the entire book, just reading those two specific pages makes the entire novel worth it. Final Thoughts: I was truly impressed by this book. I was not expecting to get so attached and feel so desperate to continue reading it. Who knew birds could be so interesting? Five out of five stars.

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