Monday, January 3, 2011

A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See it All by Luke Dempsey

Why I read it: As with The Man Who Swam the Amazon, I'm interested in monomaniacal passions.

Summary: An Englishman going through a divorce finds solace in American birds, and the companionship of two grown adults who never learned to drive a car.

My thoughts: It's an odd thing when you read a book - those sacred, bound containers of real, permanently-recorded information - and see the names of people you know, or know of as part of one of your life's circles. I guess that means you've inserted yourself into the sphere of information being discussed, become part of that world. I found some names in this book that were all too familiar.

But it's the places that really ring true. Birders across the United States have meccas, like roller coasters enthusiasts and football fans and opera aficionados and oenophiles have theirs. Just say you've seen a Kirtland's warbler and half the birding population around the U.S. will blurt out, "Oh, you've been to Michigan, have you?" Dempsey and his friends Don and Donna hit the high points in this book, from Florida to Texas to Arizona to Colorado.

I was somewhat unsure of the full premise of the book, I'm sorry to say. Early on the author mentions his marriage falling apart and how he begins to miss his daughters. The free time he suddenly, and sadly, has allows him to travel with his friends for extended weekends to birding hotspots as he descends from a guy who saw something colorful in his backyard into a fullblown "lister." As the birding increases, the family story gets less and less focus. By the end, they're almost forgotten. Still, it's a fun journey, one that most American birders will find familiar.

All that said, only one thing truly bothered me about this book, and that's the afterword rebuttal by Don. Noting numerous unfair reviews, he shoots back. My first reaction was "Oh, no, no, no!" Here's my note to the author and his friends: let your work stand the way it is. Do not allow reviewers to get to you. Reviewing books is a very individualized, comepletely subjective artform. You won't please everybody, and you shouldn't try. Take everything said - including what I've written above - with a grain of salt, consider the source, and rest happy in knowing that your story has been told to the best of your ability. Authors work far too hard in the United States to be bothered by the overtly and oftentimes egregious negativity of reviewers.

I enjoyed this book, and I hope to someday meet Luke, Don and Donna on the birding trail.