Literary Quote of the Month

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Monday, August 2, 2010

Memoir Monday... To See Every Bird On Earth by Dan Koeppel

"Throughout my childhood, as well as now, our time together was focused on birds: Dad watching them, and me watching Dad watch them.".... Dan Koeppel

Still being in my "back to nature" frame of mind since yesterday's hike, I thought a memoir connected to nature somehow would be appropriate. To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, A Son, and A Lifelong Obsession by Dan Koeppel came to mind. I read this a few years back when I first started birding. According to the National Audubon Society, birding, or bird watching, is the number one sport in America. According to US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are currently 51.3 million birders in the United States alone. There are the casual birders who enjoy watching the birds from their back porch, or bring a pair of binoculars along with them when going out for a walk. And then there are the more serious birders... people who go on bird walks, and migration adventures, take notes and keep lists. Then there are the very serious birders... The people who have Life Lists and goals and travel all over the world seeking out birds to check off on their lists, and those lists are BIG. Dan Koeppel's father is the latter kind of birder, a man who wanted to devote his life to ornithology, but followed the path his parents set out for him of becoming a doctor, and this is his story as told by his son.

From Publisher's Weekly... For some people, bird watching is a compulsion that can become more important than friends, family or career. Richard Koeppel is one of those obsessive birders, and in this candid book, his son shares his story, painting his father as a tragic figure who passionately wanted to become an ornithologist but became the doctor his parents wanted him to be instead. Not surprisingly, Richard's medical career never satisfied him, and he gave it up to become a "Big Lister," one of a group of highly competitive birders who travel the world making lists of their sightings. Over the years he spotted more than 7,000 different species, a number achieved by fewer than a dozen others. Nature writer Koeppel fleshes out his account of Richard's 50-year bird-watching odyssey with facts about this ritualized, expensive sport, including its history, the rules and technicalities of listing, the people and organizations devoted to making the lists, and questions of taxonomy. His hope, he writes, was to forge a closer relationship with his father and understand the "nearly unquenchable" drive that ruled Richard's life, ruined his marriage and made it impossible for him to be close to his children. But in the end, despite trekking alongside his father on birding expeditions, he still can't quite understand it. His book, then, is more poignant than revelatory.

There are approximately 9600 species of birds found on the earth, and only 900 species are found in the United States. It takes a certain kind of obsession and determination to try and see every bird on the earth. Only a handful of people have checked off 8000 birds, but there are many who seek that goal. To See Every Bird on Earth is a book about birds, obsession, father & sons and nature. If you don't get what the big deal is about birding, you will after you read this book. It is well written, with an honesty and tenderness only a son can show his father. It's an interesting read and I really enjoyed it! (Even before I knew what a Passerine was. What's a Passerine? They are what perching birds are classified under!)

*P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready!


carla said...

I can imagine it could become an obsession. Too bad it cost him his family. It would have been nice if the father and son could have shared it more intimately.
Some things you can never understand what makes people do them.

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Carla,
Yes, it's so sad that Dan's Father never followed his dreams as a young man and that his unhappiness lead him to over compensate for his happiness at the expense of his family. Of course he probably would have surrounded himself with different people who would have shared his love of nature had he pursued his original passion which was ornithology.

Tea said...

I'll bet this is a wonderful book.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Sounds like a great book, I would really like to know more about all the birds around me.

Ellie said...

Have you read Simon Barnes's 'Bad Birdwatcher' or Rory McGrath's 'Bearded Tit'? Both birding memoirs...

Anyway, just dropping by to tell you how much I'm enjoying your blog and to let you know that you've got an award waiting for you over on mine...

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