As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Birds and Books
When Alex Preston was 15, he stopped being a birdwatcher. Adolescence and the scorn of his peers made him put away his binoculars, leave behind the hides and the nature reserves and the quiet companionship of his fellow birders. His love of birds didn't disappear though. Rather, it went underground, and he began birdwatching in the books that he read, creating his own personal anthology of nature writing that brought the birds of his childhood back to brilliant life.
Looking for moments 'when heart and bird are one,' Preston weaves the very best writing about birds into a personal and eccentric narrative that is as much about the joy of reading and writing as it is about the thrill of wildlife. Moving from the 'high requiem' of Keats's nightingale to the crow-strewn sky at the end of Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, from Ted Hughes's brooding Hawk in the Rain to the giddy anthropomorphism of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, this is a book that will make you look at birds, at the world, in a newer, richer light.
Beautifully illustrated and illuminated by the celebrated graphic artist Neil Gower, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a book to love and to hold, to return to again and again, to marvel at the way that authors across the centuries have captured the endless grace and variety of birds.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a luminous book. The glow will stay with me. I cried. And such peerless craftsmanship; invisible joints and an extraordinary finish: highly polished yet seeming to have the patina of fields and sand and air. When medium and subject match each other perfectly, something glorious happens. Language and learning, excited that they’re at last doing what they were born for, rise to the occasion in thrilling, transfiguring synergy. It’s vanishingly rare. But it’s happened in this wonderful book. Preston’s own words soar and swoop and close their claws round a screaming mouse. He gives powerful wings to less aeronautical writers. The book is worthy of birds, and I know no higher praise.
A future classicThe Bookseller
Ever since I first heard about this book, I knew I was going to love it, combining as it does twitching and reading. I was already an admirer of Neil Gower's sublime illustrations, most recently showcased by his striking cover designs for Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling and his rejacketed backlist. And now I'm an admirer of Alex Preston's writing, too. A future classic.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire is both a joyful and a wondrous book, one that successfully captures the otherness of birds, while celebrating our yearning to transcend our lot, our yearning to touch the unknowable.
It's true what they're saying about this book. It's a beautiful living thing written, illustrated, designed and bound with magic energy.Max Porter