When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervour. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots.
Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. The book follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for “other people,” Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one’s wild side and finding one’s tribe in the unlikeliest of places.
Zarankin’s thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, this book will appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one’s place in the world.
About the author
Julia Zarankin is a writer and self-proclaimed birdsplainer with a particular fondness for sewage lagoons. Her writing has appeared in The Walrus, Orion Magazine, Threepenny Review, Antioch Review, Birding Magazine, Maisonneuve, The New Quarterly, Ontario Nature and The Globe and Mail. Zarankin’s essays are also featured in several anthologies. She won the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival nonfiction prize and has been first runner-up for PRISM International’s nonfiction prize, a finalist for the TNQ Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest and twice longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize. Her birding/life aspirations: “To sport the hairdo of a Cedar Waxwing, acquire the wardrobe of a Northern Flicker and develop the confidence of a Ross’s Goose.” She lives in Toronto, ON.
“...Birdwatching as a hobby has grown dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s believed to have more fans than any other hobby. Just why is explained in Julia Zarankin’s winsome and amusing new book...Zarankin is masterful at bringing her Russian upbringing and her childhood background in music and dance to bear on her experiences with birds. what a charming, lively, non-pedantic birdsplainer she is. If you’re a veteran birder, Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder will happily remind you of those steps you took to get where you are. If you’re a non-birdwatcher or an SOB (spouse of a birder), it should help you understand what the attraction is. And it might even push you in the direction of becoming a birdwatching hobbyist yourself.”
Gene Walz, <i>Winnipeg Free Press</i>
“A love song to the beauty of birding and a reminder that we should all spend more time looking up.”
Anne Bokma, author of <i>My Year of Living Spiritually</i>
“This sense of wonder in the ordinary permeates Field Notes From an Unintentional Birder, a thoughtful, engaging and sometimes humorous memoir that documents Zarankin’s evolution from shy novice birder to confident expert.”
Laurie Hertzel, <i>Minneapolis Star Tribune</i>
“A book about learning to stand still and really seeing the world around you. A calming read.”
“What a terrifically woven collection this is, so much more than the sum of its parts, each of which is wholly impressive. Through the lens of birding, Zarankin writes gorgeously about finding herself…”
Kerry Clare, PickleMeThis.com
“Julia Zarankin is a delight, and so is her witty, charming, self-deprecating memoir, Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder. By turns hilarious and moving, it traces Julia’s journey—almost against her will—into the world of birds and birding, where she ultimately finds a reflection of herself in the feathered migrants by which she becomes enthralled.”
Scott Weidensaul, author of <i>Living on the Wind</i>
“Julia Zarankin’s debut memoir captivated me. Honest, light-hearted, and compassionately self-deprecating…reveals nuggets of life truths that will resonate even with those who are not birders themselves...Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder looks outside our enclosed lives not with despair or trepidation, but with curiosity and openness…For readers who already are birders, Zarankin’s memoir will offer a joyful, humorous journey back into their own earlier days of birding. For those like me who aren’t (or aren’t yet!) birders, it offers a window into someone’s obsession and the chance to see how paying attention can change the way one looks at the world.”
Jennifer Case, Terrain.org
“...thoughtful, irresistibly humorous and altogether charming…”
Shelley Pomerance, Blue Metropolis Festival
“Life-affirming, thoughtful, and thoroughly delightful, this book celebrates self-acceptance and the joy of living an unexpected life. An uplifting memoir for birders and nature enthusiasts.”
“Charming + funny memoir by a person who fell into #birding by accident.”
Tweet by Margaret Atwood
“Zarankin's thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery...Eloquent, informative, personal, and impressively well written, Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections…”
Julia Summers, <i>Midwest Book Review</i>
“Everyone who loves birds has arrived at their interest by a unique route, but few can describe their journey with the eloquence that Julia Zarankin brings to this sparkling memoir. With humour and poignancy, she tells a deeply personal story that manages to shine a light on universal themes.”
Kenn Kaufman, author of <i>A Season on the Wind</i> and <i>Kingbird Highway</i>
“This moving, quirky memoir isn’t about birds so much as falling in love with the world, its everyday wonders and absurdities. With refreshing candour and curiosity, Julia Zarankin shows us how to pay attention—to what we hope to see, and above all, to the unexpected.”
Kate Harris, author of <i>Lands of Lost Borders</i>
“...a moving, and often hilarious, account of how she—a type A, perfectionistic, and nature-avoidant novice—became a bona fide ‘bird nerd,’ transforming her life in the process...The book reveals that it was the wonder of the birds themselves that helped Zarankin heal, opening her eyes and her heart to a whole new way of being in the world.”
Kristine Morris, <i>Foreword Reviews</i>