Thursday, June 02, 2016

Feather Brained by Bob Tarte

I reviewed Feather Brained by Bob Tarte at Goodreads and Amazon (the latter at the author's request) so I felt a little tapped out on reviewing the book after that first round. Sorry, Bob. I don't cut and paste. All three reviews are a shade different. Of course, I had to review it here for my permanent records, once I got over myself.

A door had burst open to reveal a secret world that had been hiding in plain sight. These birds were the mouthpieces for the seasons. They were what we had lost when we learned to speak. They were themselves and nothing more in the same way that we were ourselves and something less. Just by being, they made me happy. 

~p. 50

All of this new information about birds was a good news/bad news thing. The good news was that habitat, behavior, species migration dates, and thousand-mile detours all played major roles in birding, so that finding birds wasn't just a matter of blundering into them. The bad news was that habitat, behavior, species migration dates, and thousand-mile detours all played major roles in birding, and with so much to absorb, I was better off just hoping to blunder into birds. 

~p. 65

Feather Brained is a memoir that tells of author Bob Tarte's interest in birds, how it developed, and why it took him several attempts before he regularly began going on field trips to locate interesting birds while hunting for a rare bird (not a specific rare bird but any rare bird). It took me a long time to read the book because I kept stopping to Google various birds as I was reading about them. Fortunately, about halfway through the book, Bob informed me that he has a photo section dedicated to the birds he discusses in the book at his website. Here's the easy link:

Feather Brained photo section at Bob Tarte's website

Each link takes you to two chapters' worth of photos. Fortunately, what I'd already read was so vividly described that I had no trouble remembering what the chapters were about when I belatedly flipped through the photo sections.

I've read some of Bob Tarte's other books and loved them, so I was thrilled when Bob asked if I'd like to review Feather Brained

Feather Brained is lighthearted, informative, and filled with Bob's trademark humor. In Feather Brained, he admires the encyclopedic knowledge of birders while describing his own efforts to learn and making it sound like he's a complete disaster. I've been following Bob on Facebook for a while and I'm impressed with his knowledge of birds, so don't let him fool you.

The two things I loved most about Feather Brained were his growing understanding of animal life  (something I've mentioned in reviews of his other books) -- the surprising intelligence and memory of birds, for example, which were aided by his wife's agreement to help with bird rehabbing -- and his relationships with his wife, Linda, and his somewhat curmudgeonly friend, Bill (whom he refers to as "book character Bill Holm" on Facebook). I was well into adulthood before I got over my misunderstanding of animals as purely creatures of instinct, myself, so I always appreciate reading about Bob's learning experience, which bears some similarities to my own. I also absolutely adored what amounted to Bob and Linda's love story. And, Bill Holm is a hoot. While Bill is a little wary of the obsessive side of birding, Bob seems gobsmacked by birders' knowledge. He does, however, share some hilarious interactions with them, which are not always flattering but definitely will make you smile.

Recommended - Subdued by comparison with Bob's other books, humor-wise, but every bit as entertaining, Feather Brained made me appreciate the effort that goes into identifying birds. And, it made me feel better about never being quite sure what kind of hawk I'm looking at, if they don't have the obvious red tail. Whew! I feel so much better about that.

Scanning the frozen wastes with binocs I caught a ripple of brown and white on the ground. Gotta be a bunting, I decided. Switching to the scope, I twiddled with the focus knob to sharpen the view of a Snickers wrapper impaled on a twig.

~p. 106 

Ha! I guess that's similar to the hawks I've spotted that turned out, upon closer observation with the use of a 300mm camera lens, to be plastic bags snagged on a high branch. You might be surprised how often that happens.

Click through to read my reviews of past books by Bob Tarte:

Enslaved by Ducks
Kitty Cornered

I have not yet read Fowl Weather, even though I mentioned wanting to, when I reviewed Enslaved by Ducks. That's because it's partly about dealing with his mother's Alzheimer's and I was so stung by my mother's death that I couldn't bear to read about a mother in decline, for a long time. It was long enough ago, though, that it's no longer an issue. I really need to track down a copy of Fowl Weather.

Also of note, there is a set of discussion questions in the back of the book, and that's where Bob really let his sense of humor run loose. I closed the book laughing at the final question:

Bob says about his favorite bird, "No bird was a better bird than a bird I saw with Linda." Isn't he a prince? What is the extent of your injuries from swooning over this line? 

What a great way to end a book!

©2016 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. It sounds pretty good. I've liked his books, but sometimes the humor seemed a bit overdone, so I'm actually glad to hear this one is more muted in that regard. And I'm glad you shared the link to his photo gallery, I'll definitely make use of that when I get around to reading this one!

    1. I enjoyed it, Jeane. I agree with you on the humor. I mentioned it in both of my previous reviews of his book. When I read Enslaved by Ducks, I took breaks from the book because it was a little overwhelming, although I didn't do that with Kitty Cornered and this one's definitely subdued by comparison. Hope you love it!

  2. Thanks so much for the wonderful review, Nancy. My good friend Laura Kittens, who proofread "Feather Brained," came up with the discussion question you quoted. I had to use it, because I totally agreed that is was a great way to end a book!

    1. My pleasure, Bob. Naturally, I'm completely besotted with the name "Laura Kittens".

    2. And Laura is besotted with five cats, if I am remembering correctly.

    3. Well, then, Laura and I would get along just fine. :)

  3. Well, I have very little interest in birds but I think if an author can talk about a subject with wit and humor and keep you interested, they've done their job.

    1. That is so true! I like birds, myself, mostly when they sit still long enough for me to capture their portraits.

  4. Birds and humor go together. This sounds like a good read.

    1. They are definitely entertaining. I've often wondered where the brown thrasher got its name and then recently saw a brown thrasher thrashing around in my bushes and thought, "Oooooh."


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!