Better Living Through Birding

Better Living Through Birding

by Christian Cooper
Genres: Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Published on June 13, 2023
Pages: 304
Format: eBook Source: Library

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.

Christian Cooper is a self-described “Blerd” (Black nerd), an avid comics fan and expert birder who devotes every spring to gazing upon the migratory birds that stop to rest in Central Park, just a subway ride away from where he lives in New York City. While in the park one morning in May 2020, Cooper was engaged in the birdwatching ritual that had been a part of his life since he was ten years old when what might have been a routine encounter with a dog walker exploded age-old racial tensions. Cooper’s viral video of the incident would send shock waves through the nation.

In Better Living Through Birding, Cooper tells the story of his extraordinary life leading up to the now-infamous incident in Central Park and shows how a life spent looking up at the birds prepared him, in the most uncanny of ways, to be a gay, Black man in America today. From sharpened senses that work just as well at a protest as in a park to what a bird like the Common Grackle can teach us about self-acceptance, Better Living Through Birding exults in the pleasures of a life lived in pursuit of the natural world and invites you to discover them yourself.

Equal parts memoir, travelogue, and primer on the art of birding, this is Cooper’s story of learning to claim and defend space for himself and others like him, from his days at Marvel Comics introducing the first gay storylines to vivid and life-changing birding expeditions through Africa, Australia, the Americas, and the Himalayas. Better Living Through Birding recounts Cooper’s journey through the wonderful world of birds and what they can teach us about life, if only we would look and listen.

Christian Cooper became instantly famous when he filmed a woman in Central park who refused to put a leash on her dog. Her threat to call the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her made the incident go viral.

That story is probably one of the least interesting things about Christian Cooper.

He is a gay, Black, nerd who went to Harvard and then worked for Marvel when that was considered to be a dead end job. (His grandmother would tell people that he was still smart when they found out that he worked in comics.) He was an activist who worked with GLAAD when it was founded. He was raised going to civil rights marches. And through it all he was a birder.

This book is part memoir, part travelogue of his birding adventures, part introduction to the world of birding.

He has a TV show now on the National Geographic Channel called Extraordinary Birder. We started watching it online as I was reading this book. You can find it on Hulu and Disney Plus. He is super goofy on the show. He’s a bit more raunchy in this book. (His mental gymnastics to figure out if it was ethical to sleep with a white South African right after the fall of Apartheid are beautiful.) He’s very funny. At one point he was in charge of going through unsolicited submissions for Marvel.

Special mention is reserved for the guy who took the trouble to write, draw, and actually print in finished form a sample issue of his original superhero creation, complete with cover art:

It followed a teen burdened with fantastic powers and his pair of pals in a suburban high school, all of it unremarkable, until they’re menaced in the wrong part of town by glowering thugs. The thugs, of course, were Black; the hero, his friends, in fact everyone else in the story, was white. I desperately wanted to attach a Polaroid of myself to the rejection letter, but I refrained.

Even if you aren’t particularly interested in birds, read this one for the story of growing up different from your community and finding a way to thrive not in spite of it but because of it.