Better Living Through Birding is a memoir that is very much about birds… but it’s also about so much more. Cooper was thrust into the media spotlight via a viral video in which he was subject to racial threats in Central Park from a dog walker… and he discusses this incident in detail. However, he also discusses growing up gay & black in NYC in the 70’s & 80’s, how comic books and nature saved his life, and how activism against social injustice runs in the family. From Harvard to writing for Marvel Comics & Star Trek to following elusive birds in the most remote places in the world, this memoir is honest, emotionally stirring, and heartfelt. It made me want to go for a nature walk immediately after I finished it.
Better Living Through Birding by Christian Cooper, (List Price: $28, Random House, 9780593242384, June 2023)
Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee
I had this huge bird-shaped hole in my life. I had my painting and my poetry, but my third marriage was crumbling and all the attention I had paid to George really had nowhere else to go. I also had this vast aviary I had built, so I set about determinedly trying to find occupants for it. You can go and buy a bird but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. The birds had to be unwanted and they had to need care – birds that could not otherwise fly free. ―Frieda Hughes, Interview, The Guardian
What booksellers are saying about George, A Magpie Memoir
This captivating memoir of life with an unruly magpie had me hooked from the very first page. The eponymous corvid is rescued by Hughes – poet, painter, and daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – and quickly becomes a much-loved (albeit very naughty) member of the household. Hughes recounts his impish antics – which include daily games of hide-and-seek with multiple household objects – with affection and wry, exasperated humor.
― Jude Burke-Lewis from Square Books in Oxford, MS
| Buy from Square Books
I want her to write a hundred memoirs. I’ll take twenty more about her animals. This – her first – memoir takes place after the death of her father, during the early stages of a divorce, and prior to the suicide of her brother; Ms. Hughes experienced multiple health issues during the same time frame. She’s lived a life, man, and she keeps on living it, and she’s not immune to describing the beauty of nature and animals in tremendous detail. Fabulous.
―Alissa Redmond from South Main Book Company in Salisbury, NC | Buy from South Main Book Company
While It is no surprise that deep encounters with nature, including wild animals can be life-transforming, it is always a new delight to encounter a writer with the skill make the experience come alive. Hughes captures the wonder, the mess, the wisdom gained, and the joy in her time spent with rescued birds. Her magpie story is a welcome addition to shelves with Marc Hamer, Helen MacDonald, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and Sy Montgomery.
―Jan Blodgett from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC | Buy from Main Street Books
Reading the memoir George will make some readers desperately want a baby magpie of their own in their life and kitchen…until the reality of what damages and chaos a tiny bird can do to one’s house and heart sets in. Frieda Hughes, the daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and an established artist and author herself, decides to move to an acre of land in the Welsh countryside. While gardening and landscaping, she finds a magpie from a destroyed nest that she decides to rescue and George quickly grows and attaches deeply into her heart. Frieda Hughes writes with such vivid clarity all readers will be in her kitchen with her having tea and lovingly watching George as he plays with the dogs and messes every inch of the house. This very personal story will reveal a deep love of all of the wild nature and how it touches and changes our life. Readers will laugh and cry with the writings as we hold out breath every time George flies out our kitchen window and we tensely await his return. With drawings and poetry the author reveals all about the losses and joys of her life and we find her happily at the end with her many rescued animals and enjoying her motorbikes.
―Nancy Pierce from Bookmiser, Inc. in Marietta, GA | Buy from Bookmiser
About Frieda Hughes
Born in London in 1960, Frieda Hughes, the daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, is an established painter and poet. She has written several children’s books, eight collections of poetry, articles for magazines and newspapers, and was The Times (London) poetry columnist. As a painter, Frieda regularly exhibits in London and has a permanent exhibition at her private gallery in Wales, where she resides with fourteen owls, two rescue huskies, an ancient Maltese terrier, five chinchillas, a ferret called Socks, a royal python, and her motorbikes.
Observed with a poet’s eye, deeply concerned with social justice, history, community, and the natural world, Camille Dungy’s Soil recounts the process of creating a pollinator garden in her Colorado yard, circling around her history and the history of the plants, animals and politics of the West. “I dig up a lot of awful history when I kneel in my garden,” she writes. “But, my god, a lot of beauty grows out of this soil as well.”
This is a smart, beautiful, wide-ranging book that will draw you in and change how you look at the world around you.
Soil : The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden by Camille T. Dungy, (List Price: 28.99, Simon & Schuster, 9781982195304, May 2023)
What kind of scientist risks the little known rapids of a raging river to document plant life? The first scientists to boat down the Grand Canyon were no daredevils but two intrepid and determined women. Still their tale is full enough of drama and a motley crew of characters to make a great read. More than just a quirky bit of environmental history, their work still resonates today. Sevigny brilliantly captures their experiences as well as the political and social history of the Colorado River. A great read for anyone interested in women in science, natural history, or the American West
Brave the Wild River by Melissa L. Sevigny, (List Price: $30.00, W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393868234, May 2023)
Perhaps they can’t buy a thrill, but now Steely Dan fans can buy awareness into the lyrics they’ve debated for almost 50 years. With Quantum Criminals, Alex Pappademas and artist Joan LeMay provide cultural context, educated speculation, and bold visuals illuminating the wild rogues and rascals populating the band’s songs. From the famous (Mr. Lapage, Hoops McCann) to the lesser known (Snake Mary, Pixeleen), you’ll have more insight into their memorable cast. Face it, there may not BE just one story behind each song. But Quantum Criminals sure is a fun excursion into what may (or may not) have been in Donald Fagen’s and Walter Becker’s minds.
Quantum Criminals by Alex Pappademas, (List Price: 35, University of Texas Press, 9781477324998, May 2023)
Caroll Simpson and her husband David totally fell in love with a remote fly-in/boat-in fishing lodge named Ookpik Wilderness Lodge on Babine Lake in British Columbia and decided to buy it. With unbelievable beauty and natural wildlife, some of their life was a magical dream. They lived totally off-grid for two years until tragedy struck and David died. Would Caroll be able to live and maintain the lodge solo? She had amazing parents—her father, “a strong and powerful force in my life,” and her mother, “was the current that moved the river.” Besides having to fight off grizzlies and vicious pine martens, this awe-inspiring woman had to deal with logging issues and shattering deforestation in her watershed. She spent years battling loggers and proposed mining operations. This is a love story—a love of the wilderness and the astonishing natural beauty and the love of her dogs and being able to survive alone with only her own grit and determination. What an astonishing woman and what an amazing book! Unforgettable.
Alone in the Great Unknown by Caroll Simpson, (List Price: 22.95, Harbour Publishing, 9781550179941, April 2023)
This is exactly what we need more of in the ongoing discussion around abortion; nuanced personal accounts of abortions. While Harmange makes no apologies for her decision to terminate her pregnancy, she does describe in clear detail the grief that accompanied her decision and the shame she experienced. The decision to end a pregnancy is never made lightly even when it is absolutely the right choice and it should not be an experience filled with shame that goes untalked about.
Abortion by Pauline Harmange, (List Price: 16, Scribe US, 9781957363295, May 2023)
A unique take on a memoir (kind of) that immediately hurls you into Hannah Pittard’s crumbling world. Her husband has just cheated on her with her best friend. Recounting conversations over a decade, Pittard brings a mix of fact and fiction at times as well when recalling memories with friends, families, and others. The first part’s structure is phenomenal: Told in a play-like format that jumps throughout the years and touches on conversations of eating disorders, infidelity, grief, and just the tender human experience. A book that truly bares its soul to the world, and it pays off in the best way possible.
We Are Too Many by Hannah Pittard, (List Price: 26.99, Henry Holt and Co., 9781250869043, May 2023)
As a woman in philosophy, not only did How to Think Like a Woman challenge me, but it gave me an overwhelming sense of being known. Regan Penaluna reclaims the conversation surrounding "the problem of women" with an honesty and self-awareness that is unmatched.
How to Think Like a Woman by Regan Penaluna, (List Price: $28, Grove Press, 9780802158802, March 2023)
In Planta Sapiens, author Paco Calvo invites readers to challenge the notion of plants as static, reactionary organisms devoid of any agency or cognition. Through a mix of historical context, narrative, and research, Paco investigates the microscopic chemical reactions that drive plant biology and behavior – processes that he and a small contingent of his fellows believe may actually point to plant sentience.While the research findings are thought-provoking, I found myself more interested in the personal journey taken by Calvo to shift his own perspective on plant biology, as well as the significant pushback his thinking has received from the greater scientific community. Overall, I found this book entertaining, though I suspect that it may only find an audience with those who are already interested in the subject matter.
Planta Sapiens by Paco Calvo, (List Price: 28.95, W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393881080, March 2023)
Couplets is a fresh and modern poetry collection that delves into polyamory, identity, and queerness amongst other themes. A love story written in stanzas, but reads like a novel or a short story, I truly cannot get enough of this. We follow one woman’s coming out and the love she yearns and searches for. A fantastic meditation not just on queerness, but also relationships as a whole, I cant recommend it enough.
Couplets by Maggie Millner, (List Price: 25, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374607951, February 2023)
Those who spent a lot of time on the spoken word poetry side of Youtube in the 2010s will recognize Savannah Brown, who’s been bearing her soul for the internet for almost a decade. I was happy to find with this collection, that Brown’s poems have matured while maintaining the same vulnerability, humor, and unabashed desire for attention. Written in free verse and unconventional format, Brown delivers intimacy for the digital age, capturing the feelings of (among other things) being loved and in-love, jealousy and guilt. Skillfully, sensually written and easily digestible!
Closer Baby Closer by Savannah Brown, (List Price: 18.95, Not a Cult, 9781739618100, February 2023)
This book is FASCINATING — I kept reading things out loud to my husband and saying "DID YOU KNOW THAT??" Despite being packed with information and descriptions of scientific studies, this book is such an easy read. I think part of this is that the author is a podcaster, so she knows how to explain things in a conversational manner. I am continually flabbergasted by how little work we’ve done to study uteruses. What a magical organ!
Womb by Leah Hazard, (List Price: 29.99, Ecco, 9780063157620, March 2023)
Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
While I love poetry, I will admit to being a beginning reader still finding my way and what I like in the genre. Some of my favorite contemporary poets (and pretty much all of the dead ones) are so depressing though. Beautiful and powerful, but depressing. The Path To Kindness was an unexpected discovery! This anthology explores the themes of connection and joy. Uplifting and accessible from diverse voices, I turn to it often and have given many copies to friends.
The Path to Kindness by James Crews, (List Price: 14.95, Storey Publishing, LLC, 9781635865332, April 2023)
This is a collection about grief, a persistent grief so steady, so patient, that it grows dear. Iver’s words are cinematic, their poems traceable stories by themselves that resonate and interact with each poem that follows it. I think A Medium Performs Your Visit and Who Is This Grief For? are the highlights of the collection. "My acupuncturist says/ you enjoy this, don’t you./ She’s talking about my grief. I say who else will."
Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco by K. Iver, (List Price: 16, Milkweed Editions, 9781639550609, January 2023)