I found myself underlining something on nearly every page of this slim volume—Lanham's distinctive voice sings with awe of the natural world and clear-eyed candor of the obstacles a Black man faces in engaging this awe. Here is a writer who can perfectly express the emotive effect of a wood thrush's 3-part song, someone who finds joy the exuberance of wrens, someone who finds solace in (and solidarity with) winged beings. This is a beautiful, necessary book.— Hannah DeCamp
"You are a rare bird, easy to see but invisible just the same." That thought is close at hand in Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts, as renowned naturalist and writer J. Drew Lanham explores his obsession with birds and all things wild in a mixture of poetry and prose. He questions vital assumptions taken for granted by so many birdwatchers: can birding be an escape if the birder is not in a safe place? Who is watching him as he watches birds?
With a refreshing balance of reverence and candor, Lanham paints a unique portrait of the natural world: listening to cicadas, tracking sandpipers, towhees, wrens, and cataloging fellow birdwatchers at a conference where he is one of two black birders. The resulting insights are as honest as they are illuminating.