Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Overlooked Book: FEATHER BRAINED My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte


This is not by any means a 'forgotten' book at all, maybe not even overlooked, but I had to figure out how to fit it in on our regular Friday round-up and here we are. Bob Tarte might be thought of as a regional writer and occasionally they do tend to get overlooked by those outside the relevant region. He is an amiable guy prone to worry and grump who nevertheless writes delightful memoir-like books. He lives in Michigan with his remarkable wife Linda in near harmony with the local flora and fauna as well as a mind-numbing collection of beloved pets including parrots, parakeets, bunnies, cats, geese, ducks, turkeys and other assorted animalia. One of my fondest wishes is someday, somehow, to meet the one and only hooligan parrot Dusty.

"Linda's parrot Dusty was enjoying his morning out-of-cage time playing inside the closet at the bottom of the stairs, indulging in a favorite activity of biting a pair of shoes. He paid to attention to me as I padded stocking-footed down the steps to warm up a cup of coffee. I should have known better than to underestimate such a calculating bird. When I reached the landing he whirled around and launched himself at my feet, forcing me to vault over the back of our L-shaped couch, coffee cup in hand. Having reasserted his status at the top of the pecking order, he turned his attention back to the closet."

Linda rehabilitates wild birds orphaned or injured, from time to time, so there is a constant variety of life (wild and otherwise) to be looked after and day to day adventures in animal husbandry to write about. This is something that, thankfully, Bob Tarte does for a living.

FEATHER BRAINED is Bob's lively journey to be taken seriously as a birder and to find a rare species he can brag about online to fellow birders. Fortunately for Bob and for us, his slightly skewed sense of humor explains all this in often laugh out loud episodes in which he never spares himself or his misadventures. Honestly, Bob and especially Linda's patience with natural foibles sometimes seems super-human.

In addition to laughing as I read along, I also got to learn quite a bit about birds, birding, birdsong, avian habitats and the peculiarities of bird aficionados in general. I also shared Bob and Linda's sense of wonder and awe when an especially beautiful bird showed up at their backyard feeder or foraged in the nearby woods or down by the pond or in a neighbor's tree. I went with Bob and Linda or Bob and his friend Bill (the non-birder birder) on their occasional treks to bird gathering spots across the state all in the name of Bob trying to find a rare species to call his own.

"Jeez, what is that?" I blurted out, startled by a face so fiery orange, it might have been painted with a fluorescent highlighter pen. Two birders told me its name. A charcoal black, triangular patch across the eyes contributed to the blackburnian warbler's black, burning appearance. At that moment I understood why I'd really come. Not so much for the numerical exercise of adding species to my list - though there was that undeniable pleasure - but for fleeting encounters with beings too splendid to exist."

You don't have to know much about birds to enjoy this book, God knows I'm no expert (and I'm not a birder, though my daughter and her family do enjoy occasionally going out into the woods looking for birds) since I have always maintained that nature is best viewed from the inside of a moving car and the only birds I can readily recognize in real life are your standard assortment of sparrows, yellow finches, cardinals, starlings, blackbirds, crows and robins. (Well, yes, I can identify Canada geese and swans and ducks and the like and thrill when watching them in flight.) Anything else, I have to reach for a bird book or check online. That doesn't prevent me, however, from still being fascinated by avian variety and beauty.

Anyone interested in memoirs, birding, birds in general, humorous encounters with nature, the fine points of marriage and stories about grumpy men finding their natural calling will delight in this book. I did, for all of the above reasons.

"I loved birds, and every bird was my favorite bird. But no bird was a better bird than a bird I saw with Linda. This had been true from when we had first met, and it was even truer now."

My hint to the University of Michigan Press towards the betterment of the next edition is this: the black and white photographs which add no real value to the look of the book should be replaced with line illustrations, perhaps by local highschool art students (?) I know color photography is expensive to print, but at the very least, black and white stylized illustrations would add a bit of visual 'oomph' to the charm of Bob Tarte's prose.

Either/or. Read the book. Then check out Bob Tarte's other writings, particularly ENSLAVED BY DUCKS.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at Edgar Award nominated author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked (or not as the case may be) books other bloggers are talking about today.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks Yvette, this sounds really amusing - and as I am no ornithologist, this is something I would never have come across without you :)

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. This is fun book by an author I really do enjoy reading. Sometimes you just want a break from murder and mayhem. :)

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  2. I've read and laughed over several of Tarte's books, but I haven't read this one. He also has an occasional podcast (What Were You Thinking) with his friend Bill. Very funny!

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    1. Yeah, I have many laugh out loud moments with Bob Tarte. :) I'll have to check out the podcasts.

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  3. I LOVE birds! Backyard birding is one of my passions. This book sounds really good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    1. You're welcome, Peggy Ann. I hope you get a chance to read it. It's not only fun - I learned lots. And you get to meet Dusty the hooligan parrot. :)

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  4. I loved this book (as well as all of Bob's previous books). This is a lovely, spot-on review!

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  5. we're fortunate enough to live in woods; we constantly are pointing out different, unusual species to each other; this sounds like one of our books... tx...

    just finished "escape" by P. MacDonald... great: tx for the recommend...

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    1. Oh, so glad you liked ESCAPE. I love it when someone likes a book I recommend.
      And I think you'll like FEATHER BRAINED too. :)

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  6. Thanks so much for the review of "Feather Brained," Yvette. Two things. First, I wouldn't really call myself a regional author, since "Enslaved by Ducks" was on the Wall Street Journal Best Seller list. Second, ebook versions of "Feather Brained" do have colored photos – and my website BobTarte.com has photos keyed to every chapter of the book.

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    1. Oops, sorry about that Bob - I was kind of stretching things so I could include you in my Friday round-up. Wall Street Journal - really? I didn't know that. Wow. Cool. Thanks for the blog info too - I'll have to pay closer attention. :)

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  7. I read Enslaved by Ducks some time back, Yvette, and the chuckles Bob provoked then still occasionally bubble up from my internal archive. And I, like you and Bill, am a non-birder birder as well. Thanks for this, and for the reminder of Ducks!

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    1. You're welcome, Mathew. I really enjoyed this book and it never hurts to learn something new. I've only ever read one other book about birds and really enjoyed that one - so maybe I am at heart, a bird watcher and just never realized it. I know I do love watching them in my daughter's backyard. :)

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  8. I had not heard of this author before, Yvette, but I am sure I would enjoy this book or Enslaved by Ducks. My father was a back yard birder and taught classes to boy scouts on bird identification. He really enjoyed birds, but was never a serious birder.

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    1. I'm sure you would enjoy Bob Tarte's books, Tracy. His self-deprecating humor and observations of flora and fauna are very entertaining.

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  9. Just catching up on a month's worth of your posts, Yvette. I'm making an effort to read at least one non-fiction book each month (hopefully more than that) and this is right up my alley. I've read a slew of fascinating books on birds (it's a some time, but not diehard, hobby of mine) including two that I highly recommend: Red-Tails in Love by Marie Winn about the red tailed hawks who live in Central Park; and A Supremely Bad Idea by Luke Dempsey, a memoir laced with sardonic humor about the author's misadventures in birding and discovering the great outdoors.

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    1. I'm making note of your two recommendations, John. And I've got another one for you: HOW TO BE A BAD BIRDWATCHER by Simon Barnes. You'll love it.

      I do enjoy non-fiction, it makes for a nice change.

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  10. Luke's book inspired me to write "Feather Brained," JF. Another favorite of mine is "The Big Year."

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    1. Thanks, Bob. Adding them to my list.

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