mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Sleepwalking Down to the Lake & Waking Up in the Water. (114)

The Big Year by Mark Obmascik.

Unlocked by the Keys,
Florida's & Alaskas,
slashed from Straight to Gulf.

I pretty much hated this book at first; or any way, it really got under my skin. The wind-up is simple: a book about birding! The pitch, even more refined-- three men in a race to see who can see the most bird species, in North America, in a year. So far so good, right? In actual execution, the book does fall into the trap a lot of non-fiction stumbles into, coming off like an over-long magazine article. In this case, it is more like a New Yorker article than an Economist article, but you know the sort I mean. That isn't a damnable offense; the thing that really bothered me was the slew of unexamined trope put forward during the character portrayals. Like-- calling Napolean a "diminutive general." Really? I mean, invoking a Napolean complex is one thing, but perpetrating historical inaccuracy isn't a flattering look. The story follows three characters-- all white men, natch-- of whom one I immediately disliked, one I thought was fine & one that I sort of pitied at first, but who grew on me.

Al Levantin is fine, he's the archetypal self-made man-- again, Obmascik isn't shy about slathering on the cliches-- but I admire his journey; he retires & then decides to devote himself like a lunatic to his hobby. Sure, my hobby is roleplaying games, but I can understand the appeal of birdwatching, on a cerebral level. More than that-- the idea of a "life list" where you tick off to see how many types of birds you see over the course of your life? That is appealing. Stare into the abyss & the abyss stares back at you, I guess. Still, Levantin is the stranger you hope you get seated next too at a wedding.

Greg Miller is the victim of the worst sort of heavy handed white washing, & the writing surrounding him made me want to pull out my feathers hair. Oh, the Amish around Kent State had no crime, no violence, no corruption? These are the same Amish with all the sexual assault statistcs? The same ones busted for dealing crack, & then again for dealing meth? Because you know, I went to Kent State, so I know better than to buy into this rose tinted version of reality. The fact that Miller converts from being a Mennonite to being a Charismatic & graduates from Oral Roberts University? Would be one thing, but Obmascik goes on to say that his mistrust of Robert's famous "nine-hundred-foot Jesus" vision means obmascik had a strong sense of...skepticism? Uh, I'm not buying that, but okay.

Sandy Komito is the other leg of the tripod, & he is...exactly the kind of person I hate the most. Sandy Komito has a handicapped placard so he can park wherever he wants, even though he's not handicapped. He's the kind of guy who refuses to do chores when he goes on communal birding trips. The sort that will wait for you to hire a guide & then just follow you. When you do a drag net to look for a rare bird, he won't help, but he will tag along to reap the rewards of your labor. & worst of all, Sandy Komito thinks this is a good thing. He idolizes birds like the food-stealing skua & the nest-stealing cuckoo. The passive-agressive cheater is the reason Game Theory's tit for tat includes a mandate for reprisal.

It wasn't until after I finished the book that someone mentioned the movie version that just came out. Oh! I saw the trailer for that, it stars Steve Martin, Jack Black & Owen Wilson. Hm. Something clicked, then, in my head, & I hated everyone a little bit less. Wes Anderson lenses descended & I started looking at the characters as sort of quirky hipster versions of themselves. Oh, Steve Martin playing Sandy Komito is much more likable than the real Sandy Komito. Jack Black, I could see him redeeming the chubby religious guy & making him an affable sort of loser who gets his act together. Wait-- does that mean-- wouldn't Martin have to play Levantin, since he's the old one? A look at Wikipedia shows that the Big Year movie abandons the characters of the book & a fresh look at the trailer makes it seem like it is standard "manchild" thoughtless film fare. Oh well. Still, I'll go on thinking of the Royal Tenenbaums version of The Big Year's scoundrals. It is better this way.
Tags: 11books, 11booksclub, birding, books, haiku, obmascik

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