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Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir

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When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervour. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots. Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. The book follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for “other people,” Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one’s wild side and finding one’s tribe in the unlikeliest of places. Zarankin’s thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, this book will appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one’s place in the world.


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When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervour. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots. Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. The book follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for “other people,” Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one’s wild side and finding one’s tribe in the unlikeliest of places. Zarankin’s thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, this book will appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one’s place in the world.

30 review for Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    Years ago, I was birding with a group one evening in Arizona when a car sped past us. One of the occupants hollered, “Bird nerds!” as they whizzed by. I turned to my friend and said, “I think he meant that as an insult, don't you?” And we laughed like two hyenas. I can identify with so much of what Julia Zarankin writes here! But I wasn't nearly as conflicted about becoming a birder as she was to begin with. Part of that was being a farm child and seeing birds while gardening or doing chores. My Years ago, I was birding with a group one evening in Arizona when a car sped past us. One of the occupants hollered, “Bird nerds!” as they whizzed by. I turned to my friend and said, “I think he meant that as an insult, don't you?” And we laughed like two hyenas. I can identify with so much of what Julia Zarankin writes here! But I wasn't nearly as conflicted about becoming a birder as she was to begin with. Part of that was being a farm child and seeing birds while gardening or doing chores. My dad was a hunter and a great observer of nature, passing that love along to me. Birding is like hunting, but with binoculars instead of a gun. My mom kept a special box of treasures for rainy days that included a couple of flower field guides, so I knew about using books to identify things. I was an early riser from a very young age and I remember slipping on my shorts and a tee shirt and quietly heading outside while the rest of the family slept. I also remember my very first official bird walk at a local bird sanctuary led by the man who later became my birding mentor. I was hooked! I started on the Path of the Bird with determination. There was so much to learn, so many details, and one could strive towards expertise, something I coveted. My biggest handicap was my vision, which has never been great, but I will always recall the wondrous day that my ears “clicked" and I realized that I knew what birds I was hearing. A glorious day indeed. As Ms Zarankin describes, birding is addictive. You start small, frustrated by your inability to see what more experienced observers do. But once you've put in your ten thousand hours, you get good enough to enjoy your limited abilities. Plus who doesn't love spending a day outdoors? If you admire flowers and butterflies too, you have an even better time. As my mentor said many times, you can't let the weather control your plans. You are guaranteed to see more birds in the field than you would while sitting on your chesterfield. You will see something different every time you head out and you can never be absolutely sure of what you will find. The eternal lure of what might be out there will drag you out of bed at 4 a.m. to be to the perfect spot by sunrise and you will never eat a better sandwich than one eaten in some wild spot overlooking a lake. OMG, I could write so many birding stories! I’ve been kicked out of at least three parks. Adventures vary from sleeping on the ice in Antarctica to the disaster that was camping in Bhutan to roaming rural southern Alberta, the thrill of identifying a rare bird unassisted, coming face to face with a Great Gray Owl, watching a Sandhill Crane turn her eggs, spotting my first Evening Grosbeak at a feeder, watching a Wilson's Snipe escorting two fluffball chicks across a country road and a young Western Grebe trying to swallow a fish almost as big as it was. Too many to list them all, but so many good memories. I liked that this memoir was about the same size and had a similar design as a bird field guide. Very smart design. If you enjoy this book, may I suggest that you might also like The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession or Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in Mexico Juvenile Western Grebe determined to swallow a large fish Cross posted at my blog: https://wanda-thenextfifty.blogspot.c...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nicola

    I wanted to like this book. I love birds and also memoir, however, this book was off the mark in many ways. I enjoyed that it was about birds, takes place in Canada, and provided a lot of practical information and relatable anecdotes about birding in general. The writing was flat, nothing particularly interesting. But, the worst part was that Zarankin tried way too hard to relate parts of her life or her character to birding, and it just rang very hollow. Her attempts to draw relationships between I wanted to like this book. I love birds and also memoir, however, this book was off the mark in many ways. I enjoyed that it was about birds, takes place in Canada, and provided a lot of practical information and relatable anecdotes about birding in general. The writing was flat, nothing particularly interesting. But, the worst part was that Zarankin tried way too hard to relate parts of her life or her character to birding, and it just rang very hollow. Her attempts to draw relationships between about her life experiences and her interest in birding were very forced and random. She could have done the same exercise for any type of hobby or interest with the same results. Also, it was very tiresome to hear her being so hard on herself all the time. It wasn't explicit, but I understood from her childhood memories that her family was quite critical of her and strongly pressured her to pursue excellence and various accomplishments. It's obvious that she internalized those voices from her childhood and her writing gives them continued amplification in her own descriptions of her ways. I felt quite frustrated with her.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Gibbs

    As someone who straddles the line between becoming obsessive & fully immersed in new hobbies or pastimes and dismissing completely the rules that accompany those pastimes, there was a lot of relatable content here! I am fully and completely an unintentional (or lifelong beginner) birder, with zero interest in the rigidity that accompanies birding (listers, twitchers, etc.) It was interesting to follow Zarankin's full birding journey. We don't all have to do things the same way. This is also a th As someone who straddles the line between becoming obsessive & fully immersed in new hobbies or pastimes and dismissing completely the rules that accompany those pastimes, there was a lot of relatable content here! I am fully and completely an unintentional (or lifelong beginner) birder, with zero interest in the rigidity that accompanies birding (listers, twitchers, etc.) It was interesting to follow Zarankin's full birding journey. We don't all have to do things the same way. This is also a thoughtful memoir about a "midlife crisis", an immigrant experience, finding (and becoming comfortable) with oneself. As always, the most magical parts for me are the delighting in the very smallest of things. There's magic all around us, you just have to look up.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Heather R

    This is a sweet memoir. My favorite aspects were the hilarious descriptions of birding paraphernalia and bird-themed clothing, and the heartfelt story of how the author lost a close friend in the birding community. The aspects of the book that I didn’t like as much included the constant self-doubt the author wrote of, particularly juxtaposed with not-so-subtle brags about the numerous talents the author possesses (speaks several languages fluently, plays piano, etc etc). It grew tiresome. I also This is a sweet memoir. My favorite aspects were the hilarious descriptions of birding paraphernalia and bird-themed clothing, and the heartfelt story of how the author lost a close friend in the birding community. The aspects of the book that I didn’t like as much included the constant self-doubt the author wrote of, particularly juxtaposed with not-so-subtle brags about the numerous talents the author possesses (speaks several languages fluently, plays piano, etc etc). It grew tiresome. I also felt the narrative dragged along in parts. I found myself wanting it to move along, many times, and since I listened to the audio version, that was not really an option unless I wanted to skip whole chapters. In conclusion, this is a nice memoir, though I think I learned a lot more about birders than I did about birds. Thank you #NetGalley and #DreamscapeMedia for the ARC!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    I loved this book. It's a series of essays about birding and life and I found it very comforting. It was funny and thoughtful and I learned a lot about birding. Looking forward to talking to the author at Litfest. I loved this book. It's a series of essays about birding and life and I found it very comforting. It was funny and thoughtful and I learned a lot about birding. Looking forward to talking to the author at Litfest.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Books, Brews & Booze

    These kinds of memoirs are my favorite. “Field Notes From An Unintentional Birder” will find a spot on my shelves next to “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” and “Prodigal Summer,” two of my favorite books that speak to the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, and what we can learn from the natural world and its inhabitants. Zen Birder is one of my favorite chapters in the book. What a journey the author goes on in just four years of birding, and a testament to how much can change. * What I L These kinds of memoirs are my favorite. “Field Notes From An Unintentional Birder” will find a spot on my shelves next to “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” and “Prodigal Summer,” two of my favorite books that speak to the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, and what we can learn from the natural world and its inhabitants. Zen Birder is one of my favorite chapters in the book. What a journey the author goes on in just four years of birding, and a testament to how much can change. * What I Love * - Seeing how life-changing birding has been for the author - The hopefulness and optimism - The full circle-ness of some things, like practicing piano again - The open circle-ness of some things, like how the author will always be a perpetual birding student - Seeing how birding can provide clarity to other aspects of one’s life, like how we perceive ourselves and our relationships - I love how Zarankin wrote about both feeling like you belong in a group to being comfortable on your own and independent - that chapter had some of my favorite quotes “Did you tell them everything you know about the woodcock?” made me laugh out loud * What I Didn’t Love * - The audiobook could use a bit more differentiation when topics change. There was a pause, but my preference is for a longer pause or sometimes a sound, if it’s not jarring. * Overall * - A valuable journey that many of us can relate to. You don’t need to be a birder either, to enjoy and understand the memoir. - I would like to own this book so I can underline favorite passages and also make it part of my collection of nature books, and I can think of at least two people on my holiday shopping list who would enjoy this book too. Bonus! Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to listen to this audiobook. These are my honest thoughts.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elvan

    I wasn’t sure what to expect when I chose to listen to this audiobook release of Julia Zarankin’s Field Notes of an Unintentional Birder. The narrator, Nan McNamara sounded like she enjoyed the book as much as I did. At times you could hear the amusement in her voice as our intrepid rookie birder Julia discovers the unique world of bird identification and bird watching enthusiasts. Zarankin offers many life lessons as she explores the world of birds and their followers. I liked the way she draws I wasn’t sure what to expect when I chose to listen to this audiobook release of Julia Zarankin’s Field Notes of an Unintentional Birder. The narrator, Nan McNamara sounded like she enjoyed the book as much as I did. At times you could hear the amusement in her voice as our intrepid rookie birder Julia discovers the unique world of bird identification and bird watching enthusiasts. Zarankin offers many life lessons as she explores the world of birds and their followers. I liked the way she draws parallels between bird behaviour and human behavior like the need for migration which lays deep in a bird’s genetic makeup versus forced human migration as experienced by the author's family with their Russian Jewish background. Those moments which really made you think about life are balanced with humourous moments of a rookie birder learning the ropes from hard core devotees in the birding world. Nemesis birds, banding stations, travels to parks all over the province, the continent, the world to add elusive sightings to lists, birdathons, memorable birders and helpful guides to help the least observant fans among us. I had no idea how many types of warblers pass through my region each May, my part of the world’s spring migration pathway. An entertaining audiobook and well worth a listen if you are looking for a new hobby and or obsession. Audiobook file received with thanks from publisher via NetGalley for review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Field Notes from an Unintentionally Birder By Julia Zarankin A delightful book of a woman who finds the meaning of life through birds. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ SUMMARY Julia Zarankin became curious about birding at the age of thirty-five, but she never expect that it would change her life. Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder is Zarankin’s story of finding meaning in her life through birds. Zarankin learns more from birds than she ever anticipated. Not only would she eventually come to identify proudly as a b Field Notes from an Unintentionally Birder By Julia Zarankin A delightful book of a woman who finds the meaning of life through birds. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ SUMMARY Julia Zarankin became curious about birding at the age of thirty-five, but she never expect that it would change her life. Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder is Zarankin’s story of finding meaning in her life through birds. Zarankin learns more from birds than she ever anticipated. Not only would she eventually come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots. REVIEW Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder was intriguing because I feel much the way Julia did about birding at the beginning of her book. I am curious, I wish I knew more, but I’m not real keen on that multi-pocketed khaki vest. This book really gave me an eye opening look at the realities of birding. The book is not so much a story, as a collection of Zarankin’s life and bird experiences, hence the title. There are tidbits about the people she met while birding and unique birds sights. Her writing was casual, interesting and informative. It was easy to read and her descriptions of the birds and the areas she was birding were highly visual. She cleverly tied her life experiences, her marriage, and her relationships with her stories about birds and birding. Zarankin’s descriptions of the bird characteristics that she came to admire and even envy were delightful. She shares about the confidence and proudness she saw in the the Ross’s goose, the soft and silky hair of the cedar waxwing and the beautiful singing voice of the wood thrush. Her litany of the admired and enviable traits for other birds was thoroughly enjoyable, and nudged me to pull out my old binoculars. Zarankin also shares about the down and dirty side of birding. It’s not all about walking in a beautiful park and gazing skyward. She encounter freezing temperatures, landfills, early mornings, and sewer lagoons to find birds. This part actually cemented my birding decision. Despite the joy of new discoveries and surprising pleasures in spotting elusive birds shared by Zarankin, I just don’t think I can handle the sewage lagoons (or the multi-pockets khaki vest). Nature enthusiasts, and readers who enjoy memoirs of self-discovery will truly appreciate Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder. Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I listened to the audio version of this book and thoroughly enjoyed the narration. Publisher Dreamscape Media Published January 5, 2021 Narrated Nan McNamara Review www.bluestockingreviews.com

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andree

    Read this for book club. I have mixed feelings. I worked on birds as part of my undergrad thesis, so I've always been aware of the world of birding. I've been on multiple outings with my cousins in parks/gardens where she looks at the birds and I look at the plants (it works for us). I've been the person to whom a particular species of ducks is being pointed out to. I've removed a bird from a mist net as part of a field trip and spent time with people who point out random birds that fly past. I've Read this for book club. I have mixed feelings. I worked on birds as part of my undergrad thesis, so I've always been aware of the world of birding. I've been on multiple outings with my cousins in parks/gardens where she looks at the birds and I look at the plants (it works for us). I've been the person to whom a particular species of ducks is being pointed out to. I've removed a bird from a mist net as part of a field trip and spent time with people who point out random birds that fly past. I've even read another book on birding. I think I've read one about a great birding year. My memories are hazy, but I know I've read something, because as I was reading this I realized that I knew far too much about the world birding already. It's a world I find interesting, but it's not a world I particularly connect to. And I'm not sure how much I connected to this book at that level (or example, it may have suffered in comparison to the other birding book I've apparently read). I found this book hard to get into. It feels a bit slow, and repetitive, and quite frankly, possibly even dull. But I think that's kind of the point. And I also think I kind of get it in the end. It almost feels deliberately a bit repetitive, going back over and over the frustrations and the fun of birding. It's a story about a hobby, but it also feels like a story of someone who's a bit of a perfectionist learning to relax, and just enjoy something on their own terms. Which is something that is more interesting to me (not least because, by coincidence, I've also started playing my piano a bit again). Also really entertained by all the random southern Ontario references (I've genuinely never seen Hamilton mentioned so many times in a book) That said, while in the end I think I liked it, there's something about it that never quite lands. I'm not sure if it's stylistic, but there is something in the writing that I don't quite connect to. On the other hand, it may turn out to be one of those books that I like better in a couple of days.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Susan K

    It’s easy to underestimate this book and it’s contents. It’s roughly 250 pages broken down into multiple easy to read chapters. I laughed my way though the first couple chapters as I saw myself in some of its contents. The author intertwines birding with her life experiences. She reminders the reader while we search for the move elusive sought after person, experience, bird and we often miss out on what is right in front us but lack the maturity/experience to appreciate. You don’t need to love bi It’s easy to underestimate this book and it’s contents. It’s roughly 250 pages broken down into multiple easy to read chapters. I laughed my way though the first couple chapters as I saw myself in some of its contents. The author intertwines birding with her life experiences. She reminders the reader while we search for the move elusive sought after person, experience, bird and we often miss out on what is right in front us but lack the maturity/experience to appreciate. You don’t need to love birds to love this book. But you might find you look at them differently afterwards. Four plus stars for this book that I didn’t want to end

  11. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    You don't have to be a bird watcher to like this book but it does help. Ms. Zarankin tells about how she got into bird watching and how her passion grew. But it's not just about the birds. Along the way she tells us about what's going on in her life. Each chapter deals with a specific bird but includes what's happening in her real world too. I recommend this book for anyone - bird lover or not. A very relaxing read! You don't have to be a bird watcher to like this book but it does help. Ms. Zarankin tells about how she got into bird watching and how her passion grew. But it's not just about the birds. Along the way she tells us about what's going on in her life. Each chapter deals with a specific bird but includes what's happening in her real world too. I recommend this book for anyone - bird lover or not. A very relaxing read!

  12. 4 out of 5

    sarah

    oh how i adored this- a memoir rooted in appreciating the simple beauties and joys of life. love love love

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I really like that subgenre where a person takes up a somewhat unusual hobby to deal with a traumatic life event-- "H is for Hawk," "The Way Through the Woods," "Running Home," etc--so I was interested to see what Julia Zarankin's "Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder" would bring to that niche book category. In this particular case, however, the traumatic event (a divorce after a short-lived early marriage that made Zarankin question whether a later relationship would last) didn't fully res I really like that subgenre where a person takes up a somewhat unusual hobby to deal with a traumatic life event-- "H is for Hawk," "The Way Through the Woods," "Running Home," etc--so I was interested to see what Julia Zarankin's "Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder" would bring to that niche book category. In this particular case, however, the traumatic event (a divorce after a short-lived early marriage that made Zarankin question whether a later relationship would last) didn't fully resonate with me as her primary impetus for birdwatching. The early balance of the book, moreover, tilted a little too heavily toward autobiography for my tastes, but I'm happy to say that the balance swings more toward birdwatching in roughly the second half of the book, which I consequently found much more interesting and informative. I do wish Zarankin could have resisted the temptation to pepper the book with alliteration, as well as to call hairstyles "coiffures" and refer to herself as an "epistolophiliac"--a writing style that is not particularly conducive to the audiobook format, which is what I listened to--because when she manages to strip away what she might refer to as her "predilection for punchy prose," her writing can be very moving, particularly in a section about a snowy owl trip with a woman named Bronwyn. This is just a personal preference, however, and for readers who are considering taking up birding, "Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder" might provide just the push they need. Thank you to NetGalley and Dreamscape Audio for providing an ARC of this audiobook in return for my honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Saleem Kassum

    Exceptionally well written with many layers. In a manner of speaking, Julia Zarankin's book is about her from the perspective of the birds - a fascinating description and quest of both birds and herself. She writes with a lovely sense of humour, and with sensitivity about family and friends such as her friend, Bronwyn. Having attended her courses on Russian literature, especially Tolstoy, where she emphasises his drive for authenticity, she is completely authentic. A lovely and seductive read - Exceptionally well written with many layers. In a manner of speaking, Julia Zarankin's book is about her from the perspective of the birds - a fascinating description and quest of both birds and herself. She writes with a lovely sense of humour, and with sensitivity about family and friends such as her friend, Bronwyn. Having attended her courses on Russian literature, especially Tolstoy, where she emphasises his drive for authenticity, she is completely authentic. A lovely and seductive read - could have you going out to bird........

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    This book was fun for me. As I read each chapter, I was sitting with my tablet open to the Audubon bird app, looking at each species she described. It took twice as long to read the book that way, but it was entertaining. While I’ve never been birding in my life, I enjoy watching the locals flit from tree to tree or land on a corner of my deck. The author’s descriptions of her adventures were quite relatable most of the time, such as when she talked about not being able to master binoculars. I’d This book was fun for me. As I read each chapter, I was sitting with my tablet open to the Audubon bird app, looking at each species she described. It took twice as long to read the book that way, but it was entertaining. While I’ve never been birding in my life, I enjoy watching the locals flit from tree to tree or land on a corner of my deck. The author’s descriptions of her adventures were quite relatable most of the time, such as when she talked about not being able to master binoculars. I’d have trouble finding the moon through them, let alone a camouflaged bird. I laughed out loud several times. Overall, I found this book quite charming.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    Thank you to NetGalley for the audiobook ARC! I was attracted to this book because it insinuated itself as a whimsical story about discovering birding and falling in love with it. In actuality, it's more about the author's crippling feelings of inadequacy about everything she attempts, even though she is evidently a good writer, is really good with languages, has a great analytical mind and can take complicated notes about bird data. Instead, she chooses to focus on every single thing she can't Thank you to NetGalley for the audiobook ARC! I was attracted to this book because it insinuated itself as a whimsical story about discovering birding and falling in love with it. In actuality, it's more about the author's crippling feelings of inadequacy about everything she attempts, even though she is evidently a good writer, is really good with languages, has a great analytical mind and can take complicated notes about bird data. Instead, she chooses to focus on every single thing she can't master and when she finally settles on birding after a couple of false starts, she makes it into a competition she has to win against people who are blissfully unaware of this fact. Zarankin seems to be perfectly aware of the ridiculousness of her constant need for external validation, and I'm just glad she has her husband by her side. There's some birding in this book, but most of it is mingled with her disappointment about having missed a sighting or misidentified a bird, and only a little about the joy she gets out of it. I did like how she related to migratory birds because of her own immigration story, but I thought that dwelling on the fact that she never had children in spite of trying was kind of bizarre, when the only reason she seemed to want children was because she was expected to and not because she actually wanted them. I appreciate the character growth Zarankin undergoes, taking up new things, finally, just because she wants to do them, and not out of a deep seated need to impress everybody around her. I really enjoyed the narration in this book, Nan McNamara did a fantastic job.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    The title of this book caught my attention. Like others, I've recently become more interested in birds during the pandemic, as during my daily walks I find myself looking for birds and counting them in my head. In January 2021, I decided to make it "official" and with the help of the Cornell Lab Merlin bird ID app, started recording my life list. This has been a fun new backyard/walking hobby for me and like the author, I'm unsure of how serious I will ever get. For me, there's a little voice in The title of this book caught my attention. Like others, I've recently become more interested in birds during the pandemic, as during my daily walks I find myself looking for birds and counting them in my head. In January 2021, I decided to make it "official" and with the help of the Cornell Lab Merlin bird ID app, started recording my life list. This has been a fun new backyard/walking hobby for me and like the author, I'm unsure of how serious I will ever get. For me, there's a little voice in the back of my head saying maybe starting this list at age 44 is just too late, especially when I think of all of the opportunities I've had throughout my life to "get" birds that I wasted. (I'm looking at you, Australia.) Zarankin, in my opinion, is a serious birder. I enjoyed this book and how she related her new hobby of birdwatching/birding (still a bit confused on the difference) to other aspects of her life. I listened to the audio version and, as I do, did a bit of distracted tuning out, but the beauty of a memoir for me is that it didn't matter too much to the overall understanding, but this could be why this felt more like a collection of essays to me than a progressive memoir. The author is at the same time pretentious and insecure, something that makes sense together actually, but sometimes felt tiring as I listened. Overall, I did enjoy this book and appreciated the opportunity to learn about birding from someone in the trenches!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kara of BookishBytes

    I really like bird watching and learning about birds. I'm good at identifying my backyard birds and I put time into learning about the birds of the places I visit. I've participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count more than once, which makes me a certified bird nerd, I'm certain. So when the author of this book described herself as a beginning birder, I expected to relate to her. Oh no. She's much more than a beginning birder. She talks about how she feels badly because she can't identify the bi I really like bird watching and learning about birds. I'm good at identifying my backyard birds and I put time into learning about the birds of the places I visit. I've participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count more than once, which makes me a certified bird nerd, I'm certain. So when the author of this book described herself as a beginning birder, I expected to relate to her. Oh no. She's much more than a beginning birder. She talks about how she feels badly because she can't identify the birds by song (separate from identifying them by sight). And she describes going on multi-hour excursions with her local birding groups every week. Every week! Those are not the actions of beginning birders. Those are things avid birders do. And then she talks sadly about how slow she is to learn, how poor her identification skills are, how everyone else knows so much more than she does. I heard humming-bird-sized violins playing for her. The best parts of the book are when she talks about birds and her experiences learning about birds. Fun and relatable. The worst parts of the book are when she talks about how bad she is at doing high-level bird identification, and when she tries to shoehorn all of her life experiences into bird-related metaphors. Still, the book is readable. If you want a better bird-related memoir, I recommend H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I enjoyed this book more than many people might. The author, Julia Zarankin, is a Russian immigrant to Canada, a daughter of professional musicians and an academic. She lectures on Russian literature and culture but found herself with very limited hobbies so decided to try birding. Since then she has become very involved in the birding world, writing about it as well. In this book she compares her own life as a "migratory bird" to actual birds and I found it quite effective. One thing that would I enjoyed this book more than many people might. The author, Julia Zarankin, is a Russian immigrant to Canada, a daughter of professional musicians and an academic. She lectures on Russian literature and culture but found herself with very limited hobbies so decided to try birding. Since then she has become very involved in the birding world, writing about it as well. In this book she compares her own life as a "migratory bird" to actual birds and I found it quite effective. One thing that would have been helpful would have been the inclusion of photos of the different birds she was referencing. Fortunately I was reading in e-book format so I just switched to my browser to see each particular bird she was talking about. The photos helped enormously and made the book much more satisfying to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    A very difficult task it is to relate why one loves what one does, but Zarankin achieves it admirably here as she tells us how she came to birding, how it fit into her previous life and altered the living of it going forward. As with any memoir that uses nature for touchstones, there are hits and misses--I find it impossible to compare bird migration and human emigration for example, and her chapter attempting this is shaky--but the overall wonder and enthusiasm birding induces is conveyed beaut A very difficult task it is to relate why one loves what one does, but Zarankin achieves it admirably here as she tells us how she came to birding, how it fit into her previous life and altered the living of it going forward. As with any memoir that uses nature for touchstones, there are hits and misses--I find it impossible to compare bird migration and human emigration for example, and her chapter attempting this is shaky--but the overall wonder and enthusiasm birding induces is conveyed beautifully. Perhaps it is being stuck at home during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I was tearing up hearing about her birding forays.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kristine Tracey

    This was a pleasant read; although, a pause was required to process the book prior to writing this review. The author brought to life the joy she discovered in the world of birds and this has influenced my perspective. However, the memoir felt repetitive and covered the same themes over and over again. More than once, I recalled thinking, “haven’t I already read this?” Not withstanding this small fact, the reader is taken on a birding journey across America interspersed with the narrative of the This was a pleasant read; although, a pause was required to process the book prior to writing this review. The author brought to life the joy she discovered in the world of birds and this has influenced my perspective. However, the memoir felt repetitive and covered the same themes over and over again. More than once, I recalled thinking, “haven’t I already read this?” Not withstanding this small fact, the reader is taken on a birding journey across America interspersed with the narrative of the author’s significant life events and perspectives on her experiences. Will never look at a bird in the same way again.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    It was impossible for me not to enjoy this book. I've been an obsessive "butterfly-er" for almost ten years, and have become a winter/spring birder in the past two years, so I could relate completely to Zarankin's descriptions of what life is like as a birder. The fact that I live in the Toronto area and do my birding in some of the exact same locations as she does was just icing on the cake. It was all so relatable. Some chapters, like "Headache" and "Going Solo", felt like she had climbed insi It was impossible for me not to enjoy this book. I've been an obsessive "butterfly-er" for almost ten years, and have become a winter/spring birder in the past two years, so I could relate completely to Zarankin's descriptions of what life is like as a birder. The fact that I live in the Toronto area and do my birding in some of the exact same locations as she does was just icing on the cake. It was all so relatable. Some chapters, like "Headache" and "Going Solo", felt like she had climbed inside my head. Some chapters were a bit weaker, as she stretched to try to connect birding with other aspects of her personal life. But even those chapters held enough birding information to keep me engaged. Overall, this book will be a definite hit with anyone who enjoys birding, or nature in general.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Hoffert

    Cute memoir. I had no clue that birding was such an in-depth activity passionately followed by so many! The author’s anecdotes made we want to run out and start birding. Her love of this field and growth in the area was sweet to watch. The stories of her birding were interspersed with her personal life, but the whole thing felt a bit disorganized with no real flow to it, almost like a series of unrelated essays. Overall, nice reading and cute stories.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Bruning

    Like the author, when I discover a new interest, I usually do it with gusto. Unlike the author, my interests rarely have staying power. Julia Zarankin’s writing style is thoughtful and poetic. I enjoyed the parallels she was able to draw between migratory birds and her own life path. This was a lovely memoir that served as a light break for me after some heavy fiction.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    I love this book! I am not a birder but this book made me want to get out my binoculars and look at my backyard birds. This book is a memoir where the author ties changes and growth in her birding life with changes and growth in her life. It made me think about my own life and how it incremental changes can add up. Thanks s and s such a good book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Serg

    Man, this was hella boring. Most chapters felt like an eighth grader trying to write a compare and contrast essay on ‘blank’ and birds. Girlfriend was really reaching, trying to relate every aspect of her life to a time that she saw a bird. Can see it being enjoyable if you are very very into birds.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Eva Stachniak

    A wonderful memoir of migration and birding. A deeply personal and thoughtful reckoning with a mid-life crisis. Julia Zarankin is a treasure.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Grishaw

    A truly delightful read. A book that confirmed many of the things truths about birding that I had suspected, through the lens of a woman who found her interest in her mid life. Highly recommend to those interested and those not interested in birds. Perhaps my favorite book of the year.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Izzy

    A pleasure!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark Nenadov

    An engaging, amusing memoir by a Toronto-area birder.

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