Life Through the Lens of a Doctor-Birder by John H. Fitchen

★★★★★  When one observes a bird while birding, it isn’t just “seen” or “acquired”—to the birder, it is “had.” In John H. Fitchen’s memoir, he writes “One may see a small form flit by, but to get it, to know what it is beyond a reasonable doubt—to have it, to take it—you must see (or hear) specific things.” Dr. Fitchen’s memoir Life Through the Lens of a Doctor-Birder is written with the finely tuned sensitivity of a birder. He has not just seen life; as demonstrated in this memoir, he’s taken it.

There’s a feeling that a well-written memoir like Dr. Fitchen’s can evoke, akin to sitting by the fire covered in a blanket with a steaming mug of tea. Telling a story so confidently and elegantly, having had a lifetime to work through the character development and plotting so that it envelops the reader fully, is nothing short of comforting. Dr. Fitchen writes with an economy that keeps the story brisk, propelling the story forward with well-structured chapters. He resists the unfortunate tradition in many memoirs wherein a whole life’s cast of characters is given weight by carefully highlighting and elevating only a few key players, who become dearly beloved by the reader.

Dr. Fitchen’s life is simultaneously extraordinary and incredibly normal. His niche fields (birding, medicine) add interest to an American life well-lived, and his ability to explain unfamiliar terms to the reader without a trace of condescension or hurriedness helps build understanding as the memoir progresses, instead of forcing the reader to continually flip to a glossary. Life Through the Lens of a Doctor-Birder leads the reader through the warmly remembered life of a man with great ability in medicine, birding, and writing.

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