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Book Review | Better Living Through Birding by Christian Cooper

From the publisher: Central Park birder Christian Cooper takes us beyond the viral video that shocked a nation and into a world of avian adventures, global excursions, and the unexpected lessons you can learn from a life spent looking up.

This is a compelling memoir of an ordinary person thrust into the limelight after an encounter in New York City’s Central Park with an unleashed dog and its owner.

Christian Cooper is a regular guy who found fame when he asked Amy Cooper to leash her dog in an area of Central Park known as the Ramble during bird migration. She reacted by calling the police on him, and his video of her behavior went viral. I don’t know whether Christian Cooper was asked to write a memoir or it was his idea, but he’s a good writer and I enjoyed it a lot. He’s funny, and thoughtful about his word choices.

I suspect some readers who pick up this memoir will be disappointed because there’s too much about birds. I suspect some birders who pick up this memoir will be disappointed because there isn’t enough about birds. Cooper takes us through his years before and after the video, documenting his life as a Black, male, gay, birdwatching nerd and sprinkling in birding tips as he goes.

I might not seem to have a lot in common with Cooper – I’m a white straight woman – but I am a birdwatcher and a nerd who loves Star Trek, and I’m about the same age as Cooper. Our shared pop culture experiences resonate! Reading Better Living Through Birding was like sitting down with a friend for coffee. Christian Cooper is a confident guy who stands up for what he believes in. His birding by ear skills sound legendary. He’d be fun to bird with.

I liked that the memoir covered a lot of ground and a lot of normal issues. Awkwardness with dad. Frustration with mom. Pushing the boundaries at work. Spending free time obsessed with a hobby. Modeling behavior after a character from pop culture. Dealing with coming out as gay. Encountering casual racism. This may or may not be the memoir for you, but if it intrigues you at all I recommend giving it a chance.

I read an advance reader copy of Better Living Through Birding from Netgalley.

It is scheduled to be published on June 13, and it will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.