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.
Owls, for all their popularity in myths and Harry Potter movies, are elusive and difficult to observe in the wild. But the wild, the reality is what Darlington is seeking and what she brings to this thoughtful account. Her careful descriptions of eight species are deepened by reflections on how much humanity loses when we lose true awareness of the wild. A call for more care of the natural world, protection of spaces needed by our fellow creatures, and a willingness to live with uncertainty, this book offers heart and soul as well as natural history.
The Wise Hours by Miriam Darlington, (List Price: $27.95, Tin House Books, 9781953534835, February 2023)
Bird Brother is the fascinating journey of Rodney Stotts from growing up in the projects of Southeast DC to becoming a conservationist. inner-city youth mentor, and one of the few Black master falconers in the U.S. The book is written in a conversational style, and though reading his history can be emotional/difficult at times, it’s easy to see that his love for nature is the reason that he’s alive today. He’s also very honest about his mistakes, his perseverance in avian education/rehabilitation, and the obstacles that he overcame with the help of his friends & family. Most importantly, he champions the responsibility that we humans have as caretakers of the nature/wildlife around us… and in his own words, to serve something bigger than ourselves.
Bird Brother by Rodney Stotts, (List Price: $26.00, Island Press, 9781642831740, February 2022)
Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee
I love a book that takes an impossibly large topic (in this case: birds) and simplifies it in a way that allows a young reader to meet several different examples through one method of comparison (in this case: beaks). Each bird’s beak is introduced by explaining what the bird uses it for. It’s a great way to find out how birds are different from each other while still being super accessible. The illustrations are gorgeous and the two-page spread in the back that shows where each bird lives is a nice touch!
The Beak Book by Robin Page, Robin Page (Illus) (List Price: $17.99, Beach Lane Books, 9781534460416, January, 2021)
Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina