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.
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)
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)
As a near-constant NPR fanatic (my ringtone is "All Rings Considered" from Bojack Horseman and I wake up to Morning Edition) with friends in journalism, really enjoyed this peek behind the curtain of journalism and the human element of stories that cannot always be told on air. Ari Shapiro weaves together stories of his childhood growing up in North Dakota, with the story of meeting his husband, with his journalism, and his cabaret show with Alan Cumming in a way that makes this memoir irresistible to put down. Moments in this collection of journalistic stories made me laugh out loud, while others made me tear up in their poignancy and relevance. A beautiful collection to remind any reader of the importance of human connection.
The Best Strangers in the World by Ari Shapiro, (List Price: 28.99, HarperOne, 9780063221345, April 2023)
I loved Nichol Chung’s debut memoir, All You Can Ever Know, so I couldn’t wait to read her latest, A Living Remedy. Continuing to explore themes of identify and race, A Living Remedy also delves into themes of grief, class and our fractured healthcare system up through the days of the COVID 19 pandemic. I want to spare the reader spoilers because I was riveted by Nicole’s experience of growing up, moving across the country from her adoptive parents and raising a family of her own. Her exquisite writing and tender vulnerability makes this a stand-out memoir for me. Highly recommend!
A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung, (List Price: 29.99, Ecco, 9780063031616, April 2023)
Maggie Smith shares with readers an intimate reflection as she goes through a personal heartbreak, or rather a thousand tiny heartbreaks, over the course of her thirteen-year relationship. Not only centered around love and loss, her memoir looks at the complex issues of modern womanhood and patriarchy. Though I have not personally experienced the pain she details in her memoir, I felt as if I have because of the power of her words. You will find someone you know in her story and it will help you understand their pain a little better. Maggie Smith has the ability to take the human feelings and emotions we all have, but sometimes lack the words to describe, and present them through a beautiful metaphor that can make you feel seen and understood. She does not stay in the pain; she evolves, changes, makes herself new, and always finds a way to make life beautiful.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith, (List Price: 28, Atria/One Signal Publishers, 9781982185855, April 2023)
Subtitled "A Person History –with Fairy Tales," this collection of essays refracts Mark’s fears, losses, family, and more through the prism of fairy tales. There are plenty of jagged edges and tales torn into for new meanings and few happily ever afters. Incisive, probing, Mark gives herself to the stories and leave readers a wealth of questions.
Happily by Sabrina Orah Mark, (List Price: $27, Random House, 9780593242476, March 2023)
A beautiful new picture book from the perennial bestseller, Carole Boston Weatherford. An important and necessary addition to libraries and history books everywhere about the nation’s first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson by Carole Boston Weatherford, (List Price: $18.99, Crown Books for Young Readers, 9780593650165, February 2023)
Reviewed by Jamie Southern, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The subconscious and conscious manipulations of cult mentality have been studied and discussed many times over. These accounts often come from those closest to cult leaders: family members, close confidants, and in this case, grandchildren. Dowd walks us through her childhood, chapter introductions mimicking a guide for living the way she and the Mountain do. (Note: she does specifically state that this book is not intended, nor should it be used, as a guide for foraging). Her connection to nature and its usefulness in her life is evident in how she writes.
Forager by Michelle Dowd, (List Price: 28, Algonquin Books, 9781643751856, March 2023)
Reviewed by Jamie Kovacs, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Where this book shines is the author’s ability to almost tangibly describe the emotions she’s experiencing through multiple parts of this book. Along with that, it viscerally relays the experience of dealing with mental illness from a young age, having that impact your life and relationships, and trying survive amidst all of that. This will be enjoyed by people who like these sort of lyrical writings (especially if you like poetry).
Dyscalculia by Camonghne Felix, (List Price: $27, One World, 9780593242179, February 2023)
Last year, I read a sweet little debut novel by Shelby Van Pelt called Remarkably Bright Creatures. You might remember it because I talked about it here and sang the praises of our octopus narrator, Marcellus. Still one of the best characters in fiction I read last year. That book led me to My Octopus Teacher, a documentary on Netflix, and several other sea creature ventures. It eventually led me to Sabrine Imbler’s memoir, How Far the Light Reaches, a memoir I didn’t know I needed.
I consider myself fairly progressive. I love a good gay rom-com and work hard to promote voices that are often found in the margins. Imbler’s book was not only a thoughtful and well written tapestry, weaving together personal experience with life under water, but it very gently allowed me inside the mind of a trans person. They are graciously and carefully sharing experiences with the reader that are so personal but at the same time so universal. Imbler covers every highlight of growing up and learning about her own body, from childhood through those terrible teenage years and into adulthood, and it was such an eye opening experience – for both of us!
The book chronicles the life of a queer, mixed race writer working in a largely white, male field. Imbler is a science and conservation journalist who has always been drawn to the mystery of life in the sea. Each essay weaves together a sea creature and Imbler’s own life experiences. These stories show us seemingly radical models of family, community, and care, but upon deeper reflection, these stories are a lot like our own stories. Stories of finding comfort with our own bodies, cultivating relationships that are important to our own survival, and adapting to severe life changes. In this book, Imbler shows us the ways in which our world – even the parts of it that we know little about or don’t quite understand, is full of miracles.
How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler, (List Price: $27, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316540537, December 2022)