I have loved birds as long as I can remember. There are certain brisk spring and autumn mornings when sound travels clear and far that take me back to my grandfather’s house, where I first learned bird calls and names. He taught me about robins, cardinals, bluebirds, woodpeckers, ducks, geese, owls and more. He told me about how they would fly halfway across the world to come visit us every year. I was a casual observer until I went to college, when I became obsessed with the white pelicans that would rest in the LSU lakes for winter vacation. While observing the pelicans’ beauty, I learned about cormorants, snowy egrets, little blue and great blue herons that fed along the shores beside the giant white birds. Watching the birds soothes me. It was therapeutic to sit outside for hours on end, soaking up God’s creation after a stressful class. When my husband and I bought our first house, I prioritized hanging a bird feeder in the backyard. I enjoyed watching our neighborhood birds and was incredibly thankful they were already familiar with our feeder when the world came to a screeching halt in March.
Like so many others during this pandemic, I found solace sipping coffee on Saturday mornings on my back porch, watching the birds blissfully fly in and out of my yard. Having been forced to slow down, we witnessed bird behaviors that we might otherwise have missed. We watched white breasted nuthatch fledgings harass their parents for sunflower seeds, hopping up and down the oak tree trunk like tiny acrobats. We laughed at a clever ruby-throated hummingbird freeze into hiding position in a camellia bush - camouflaged in color and shape like one of its leaves - when another territorial male dived in to protect its feeder. We learned the calls of so many songbirds and decided that the Carolina chickadee had the sweetest, purest and loveliest sound of them all.
Jennifer Ackerman’s The Bird Way is the perfect book for a bird nerd like myself. I checked it out from the library for two reasons. First, because birds, duh. Second, because our library's summer reading committee is already narrowing down top titles for the 2021 theme Tales and Tails (expect a lot of animal themed books on this blog for the next few months). I typically can't commit to a nonfiction book (I give up after a few chapters of most of them except memoirs), but I kept coming back to this one because it was so incredibly fun and interesting to me. In it, I learned how birds across species live varied lives. They are as diverse in their foraging, singing, parenting and even playing as we humans are. I found myself often Googling images of the foreign and exotic birds she researched: the adorable keas, the colorful fairy-wrens and the dastardly magpies. I will probably never see these birds in the wild, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning about their behaviors from a dedicated researcher and talented writer like Ackerman.
If you're looking to take your bird knowledge to the next level, check out The Bird Way from your local library or purchase a copy from your local bookstore or on Amazon here.
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You ever start to grieve the ending of a book before it's over? You suddenly feel the weight of the book has shifted from your right hand to the left. You've been so absorbed in the story, you didn't realize there are less pages to read than pages you have already read. You want to know how the story ends, but you don't want it to be over. So you cherish the last few pages, slow down your eyes, reread sentences that made you think, take time to laugh or cry, and sigh with contentment as you close the book with finality.
I imagine life can be like that too.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman was an absolute joy to read and an absolute heartbreak to finish. The characters were three-dimensional and the plot was captivating. At times I cried my eyes out, occasionally from weeping and many other times from laughing. Hilarious and bittersweet, A Man Called Ove was the best book I've read all year.
We all know a man like Ove. Maybe he is called George or Scott or Papa. Maybe the Ove in your life is a woman. But one thing all Oves in this world have in common, no matter what they are called, is that we have not treated them with the respect and love any human deserves. They are perceived to be old grumps, so we treat them like old grumps. We demean them, annoy them and ignore them. We sum up their existence in their attitude and nothing else.
The Ove in our life is obviously misunderstood, but we just don't have the patience or compassion to take the time to ask questions, to get to know him, to become friends, to learn from his lessons that he has to teach.
A Man Called Ove is about such a person who has been wronged by this world. He has been the victim of bureaucracy and injustice. There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and Ove knows they just don't make 'em like they used to. Then, they tried to take his job. They tried to take his house. They tried to take his dignity. He lost the love of his life. He pushed away a friend.
He just wants it all to be over.
So Ove tries to kill himself. Yet during every attempt, he is thwarted. The rope breaks, the cat stares and the loud, pregnant, foreign neighbor interrupts.
And it's somehow both hilarious and heartbreaking.
Fredrik Backman has a gift of making a horribly depressing situation and an awfully sad, old man hysterical. And this loud, pregnant, foreign neighbor manages to do what hardly any other person in Ove's life could. She persistently makes contact. When he pushes her away, she pushes back in. When he yells at the stray cat, she insists he take it in as a pet. When he finds the other neighbors repulsive, she brings them in. When he locks himself in the house, she pounds on the door. When he ignores her, she boldly asks for favors.
And through all her non-stop annoyance, Ove begins to delay his death. He pushes back his suicide one day at a time, until he stops imagining it all together.
This story was a sweet, beautiful reminder of the humanity of our neighbors, even the grumps. It is our responsibility to reach out, to make connections, to befriend. We never know what battles they are facing.
When a story is this funny, this heartwarming, this thoughtful, this beautiful, I don't want it to end. But just like those people we love who have left us too soon, the characters and lessons of this book will stay with me for a very long time, even when it's all over.
Check out A Man Called Ove from your local public library or purchase a copy at your local bookstore or on Amazon.
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Danielle Kelley Tolbird
Surrounded by books by day, Tolbird works as the communications coordinator of her local library. She writes about her favorite books, faith in God and daily life.