A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All by Luke Dempsey. First published 2008. As reviewed and pictured: softcover, 264 pages.
I’ve been blogging about my birding “adventures” for a few years now. I started this blog way back in late 2005, but it wasn’t until almost three years later that my posts started really reflecting my own experiences and not just interesting bird-related tidbits I was picking up here and there in the news. Even though I have been birding for at least five years (longer than that, really, but it was within this time frame that i became aware of the birding culture and started to embrace it), I still consider myself a beginner, and happy to be so. I’m not really willing or able (at this point, anyway) to put in the amount of time needed to really be a skilled birder, and I’m okay with that. I still consult my field guide out in the field, I enjoy birding with others, and I am not ashamed to ask for help or guidance from more experienced birders. I’ve also still got a lot of easy gaping holes in my lifelist that can easily be filled but I’m content to let those ticks come as they may.
Fumbling through the hobby as I am makes for a few interesting blog posts, I hope, and I’m sure a lot of tedious ones, especially to anyone more experienced than I. I’m blogging to share my experiences with the greater world, obviously, but also with my future self. Blogs are great snapshots of a place and time.
This sort of enjoyable fumbling is where author Luke Dempsey seems to be in his birding career. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, obviously. But to me A Supremely Bad Idea reads like the misadventures of a mediocre birder, and the material varies wildly from somewhat compelling to rather uneventful. With an ambitious subtitle, Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See it All, I was expecting a big-year-style adventure. Instead, the book’s chapters, which covers Dempsey’s birding trips outside of his home base in New York to various birding hotspots in the United States, are virtually stand-alone travelogues. Dempsey often travels with an eccentric birding couple, whose antics are sometimes good for a laugh and sometimes annoying as hell to the author, and this reader, too. All of these tales would have made interesting blog fodder, but they fall flat as a birding book.
Dempsey’s writing is easy to follow, and he tells his story with humor and wit, but the material itself just wasn’t all that compelling to me. If he writes another birding book, I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss it. I just better be about something. Meanwhile, I give A Supremely Bad Idea 2.5 Goldfinches out of 5.