Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Khaki and Binoculars

For a topic that has absolutely zero appeal to me, I was surprisingly entertained by Luke Dempsey's A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All. I love the outdoors and all, but birding? Strikes me as an activity for retired 70-somethings living either out of an RV or somewhere in Florida. I think this because of my grandparents who, in my childhood, were 70-somethings with binoculars hanging beside the bay window overlooking the backyard that was littered with birdhouses, bird feeders, and bird baths. I've never actually asked them if they were birders, but my skills of deduction are going to say yes.

Dempsey doesn't actually follow this stereotype. He's a 30-something year-old British immigrant living in New York City and working in publishing. After some friends pointed out a bird flying around his country house in upstate New York, Dempsey was hooked with a new hobby. Battling the khaki-wearing, granola-eating, fanny pack-using convention, our protagonist makes his way across the country with fellow birders Don and Donna and a keen eye to the treetops.

If you have absolutely zero interest in bird-watching, like me, you can at least appreciate it after reading Dempsey's memoir. His narrative guides the reader through his renewed love affair with nature and the landscape of his adoptive country. He pokes fun at the unobservant traveler and the general "stupid" person as much as he pokes fun at himself and his untanned, grayish-tinted English skin. His storytelling pulls you in with the subtle humor of Bill Bryson [to whom Dempsey has been compared with this novel]. He's sarcastic and witty and you can tell that as much as he loves birding, he doesn't take himself or his experiences too seriously. He brings a very human and very relatable quality to these stories to which only a small population of people could actually relate.

To me, this was one of those books where the subject matter isn't as important as how well the author tells the story. Despite my lack of interest in birding, I enjoyed the story because of Dempsey's voice. If you're a birder, you'll like this because you can relate. If you're not a birder, you'll probably chuckle at the extremes these people go to. And then you'll want to go outside and enjoy nature, maybe think twice when you see a bird, but then shrug it off because, really, you don't care what kind it was.

Here's a video:

Review copy received as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I can't believe that the author is a British immigrant! I wasn't going to mention anything, but that tile would be really rude in the UK - I'm shocked that he choose that title having come from the UK.

Anyway, it doesn't sound like my sort of book, but you make it sound very appealing - shame no library in the UK will be likely to stock it.

farmlanebooks said...

Sorry - just realised that the title of your post isn't the title of the book. I take my comment back, but if you were in the UK you'd have your mouth washed out with soap and water! LOL!

Kari said...

So is it safe to assume that "fannypack" does not refer to this item of utmost class and style in the UK?

Kari said...

Hahaha, I just Wikipedia-ed it. How unfortunate that the term is not completely universal. Maybe I'll just change the title for your Brits. :)

farmlanebooks said...

They are called 'bum bags' in the UK. Don't change the title on account of me - I just wanted to warn you of the difference in meaning! LOL!

ChristinaO said...

When I was in college, my parents put up bird feeders and kept the collection of them growing.

At first I made fun of them for being old and that bird watching was one step away from senior hours at Ponderosa.

Then I came home for the summer and was hooked. Eventually a bear got into the feeders and they took them all down - but it was lovely sitting out reading and watching the bird.

That said, the appeal of hiking through the woods hoping to spot some ellusive fowl doesn't appeal to me. But I will probably read the book now.

Salvatore said...

I have to say that I actually really enjoy the concept of this book, and I wish I took the study of birds much more seriously. Another life. And if I didn't live in the City. But it does sound like a good read. I should take a glance at it. I almost brought back to Brooklyn my copy of The Beak of the Finch when I was upstate.

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

i actually enjoy memoirs with an educational bent to them (ie. a walk in the woods by bill bryson). i love to learn little tidbits and die laughing along the way thanks to bryson's wit.

this book sounds like one for me! :)

Kari said...

A Walk in the Woods was my first experience with Bill Bryson...and after reading several more of his books, I still think it's my favorite!

Funnily enough, I was going through some old college notebooks recently and discovered that he (Bryson) was a guest lecturer in this required British Society and Culture class I had when I studied abroad in London. Too bad I hadn't read him before that...I would've actually paid attention!