A writer's search for inspiration, beauty and solace leads her to birds in this intimate and exuberant meditation on creativity and life—a field guide to things small and significant.
For Vladimir Nabokov, it was butterflies. For John Cage, it was mushrooms. For Sylvia Plath, it was bees. Each of these artists took time away from their work to become observers of natural phenomena. In 2012, Kyo Maclear met a local Toronto musician with an equally captivating side passion—he had recently lost his heart to birds. Curious about what prompted this young urban artist to suddenly embrace nature, Kyo decides to follow him for a year and find out.
A distilled, crystal-like companion to H Is for Hawk, this memoir celebrates the particular madness of loving and chasing after birds in a big city. Intimate and philosophical, moving with ease between the granular and the grand view, it celebrates the creative and liberating effects of keeping your eyes and ears wide open, and explores what happens when you apply the core lessons of birding to other aspects of life. In one sense, this is a book about disconnection—how our passions can buckle under the demands and emotions of daily life—and about reconnection: how the act of seeking passion and beauty in small ways can lead us to discover our most satisfying life. On a deeper level, it takes up the questions of how we are shaped and nurtured by our parallel passions, and how we might come to cherish not only the world's pristine natural places but also the blemished urban spaces where most of us live.
Birds Art Life follows two artists on a yearlong adventure that is at once a meditation on the nature of creativity and a quest for a good and meaningful life.
KYO MACLEAR is a novelist, essayist and children's author. She was born in London, England, and moved to Toronto at the age of four. Kyo holds an Honors B.A. in Fine Art and Art History and an M.A. in Cultural Studies from the University of Toronto, and is currently a doctoral student at York University, where she holds a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. She is the author of two acclaimed novels for adults, The Letter Opener and Stray Love, and numerous beloved books for children, including Julia, Child and The Good Little Book. Kyo lives in Toronto where she shares a home with two sons, two cats, a musician and a truckload of books.
#1 National Bestseller
Winner of The Alcuin Society Award for Excellence in Book Design in Canada
Shortlisted for the 2017 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
A Globe and Mail Best Book
A National Post Best Book
A CBC Best Book
A NOW Magazine Best Book
An Entropy Best Book
"Birds Art Life feels like a passionate defence of the things we so consistently overlook—the tiny, the invisible, the seemingly inconsequential, the precious. . . . The memoir's structure is a lot like a tidy cupboard brimming with beautiful objects—each one taken from a shelf, examined for a short time and returned, to allow another to reveal its wisdom. . . . I often found myself flipping backward, revisiting underlined passages, relishing the insight offered on everything from health and aging to introversion and extroversion, familial and romantic love to success and failure, courage and fear. Birds are indeed the narrative thread, but a love for them, or even an interest in them, is not necessary to appreciate what Maclear has accomplished. What it means to be human is the overarching subject, and readers will find a universality in Maclear's experiences, along with countless passages worthy of returning to time and time again." —The Globe and Mail
"A wondrous little book about 'being a little lost.'" —The New York Times
"An incandescent exploration of beauty, inspiration, art, family and freedom that seems to leave no topic out of its binocular scope." —Toronto Star
"In an age in which bombastic noise often triumphs over quiet contemplation, Maclear offers a lyrical ode to the beauty of smallness, of quiet, of seeing the unique in the ordinary." —Maclean's
"Every now and then you read a book that changes the way you see the world. For me, Birds Art Life is one such book. The writing is marvelously pure and honest and light. At the same time, magically, it is erudite, generous and brimming with meaning and event. It is a book I know I will return to again and again for inspiration and solace." —Barbara Gowdy, author of The White Bone and We So Seldom Look on Love
"A beautifully crafted memoir that elevates the ordinary with intelligence and humility." —Leslie Feist, musician
"Intricate and delicate as birdsong, Kyo Maclear's clear-eyed observations of the natural world and our place in it challenge the velocity of modern life. A year spent birding is a year spent in passionate introspection. As she discovers beauty in urban cityscape, she leads us to turn fresh eyes to our surroundings. Her beloved birds become messengers of both loss and hope." —Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way
"Original, charming, a little eccentric even. This book is a delight." —Nigel Slater, author of Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger
"The simple precision of Maclear's prose belies the depth, as if the book were the tip of the iceberg and what she has elided or omitted constitutes the rest. . . . Writers and others will find inspiration in the advice to stop and hear the birds." —Kirkus Reviews
"A literary jewel box. . . . [Maclear's] tiny gems of thought are borne of purposeful waiting, quietude and reflection. . . . Maclear's book is appealing in its appreciation of non-human nature in the midst of city life, agnosticism about the place of human activity in the midst of nature's rhythms and exploration of the relationship between captivity and freedom." —Publishers Weekly
"The beauty of her writing and playfulness with language leap forth. . . . These instances serve to remind readers that Maclear is not just an author who ponders the deeper meaning of existence and relationships, but also one who writes subversive children's books that have been highly praised as much for their buoyant text as for the author's willingness to take on unusual or sensitive subjects." —Quill & Quire
"[Kyo Maclear] likes noticing and thinking. Whenever her experience as birdwatcher offers her a lesson, she makes the most of it. The significance of small ambitions. The virtue of waiting. The importance of knowledge. The acceptance of brokenness. It seemed that by spending time with her writing, I had become more perceptive and thoughtful myself. Her courage and curiosity had turned out to be contagious." —Literary Review of Canada
"[Bird Art Life is a] strange, lovely, profound little book. . . . [Maclear's] prose here is direct and clear, each sentence carrying as much weight as a line in a picture book, or in a poem. . . . This book is a lovely song—a symphony." —The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"Maclear meditates on her past, her parents, her marriage, books she loves, the nature of art, death, happiness, climate change and whatever else comes to her fertile, deeply curious mind. Though structured as a chronological memoir, hers is not a typical 'year in the life' narrative. Each chapter is built around bird observations, but her excursions to the urban-bird habitats serve mainly as jumping-off points for her intelligent and thoughtful ramblings. Her metaphors and verbs are often bird-inspired, but these allusions feel natural, never forced, and her descriptions are vivid and original. . . . [Maclear] writes books for children, and her prose here is direct and clear, each sentence carrying as much weight as a line in a picture book, or in a poem. . . . This book is a lovely song—a symphony—for all of us." —Portland Press Herald
"Birds Art Life is a charming book, as delicate as a warbler's plumage. . . . Its modesty is its most attractive feature." —Winnipeg Free Press
"I can hardly put this down. . . . Yes, it's about birding. But so much more." —Charlotte Observer
"Maclear makes birding her inspiration for this tender meditation on grief, loss and creativity. . . . [With] her sometimes alarming honesty, she creates a gorgeous personal statement that has universal implications." —NOW