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Big Twitch : One Man, One Continent, a Race against Time -- A True Story about Birdwatching By Sean Dooley

I think it may have started back in 1980 in Britain, when Richard Millington undertook a year listing challenge and wrote and illustrated a beautiful book called a "Twitcher's Diary." Chasing after rare birds was considered a distasteful hobby (it still is by many serious birders and ornithologists) and this book was considered to be so sexy that the RSPB infamously blacked out the title of the book in its own book catalog! This only made the book even more of a prize to own by the twitching youth at the time. (click here for a definition of a twitcher).

Sean Dooley in The Big Twitch "I think as much as anything I was looking for something to justifty my year. Saying I was taking a year off to make a documentary seemed easier than saying I was spending a year birdwatching. In this society being a wanker is socially unacceptable. Filming yourself while being a wanker, however, seems perfectly legitimate."

Since then, the year listing phenomenon seems to have moved in to high gear and it seems like the number of books produced by the top listers grows each year. Very recent examples include Adrian Riley’s British year listing quest and his infamous bitter rivalry with year listing extraordinaire Lee Evans. Sandy Komito has been writing books for years about his exhausting and expensive North American year listing exploits. “The Big Year” by Mark Obmascik has even been bought by Ben Stiller’s production company and is destined to make the silver screen.
 
However, I think no one has managed to inject as much humor as Sean Dooley has in his “The Big Twitch.” Sean’s attempt to be the first birder to break the magic 700 in one year in Australia is very addictive. I could tell from the opening chapter that this darkly comic read was a different sort of year listing book altogether. This wasn’t going to follow along the lines of  “…then I got in my car and drove 300 miles and got the bird..."  Dooley who is a television comedy writer, has an engaging and self-deprecating style that makes The Big Twitch a charming and hilarious page turner. The backcover calls his story "..the most pathetic great achievement in Australian history?"
 
The book is more than just about birding and listing. Sean’s wry observations of everyday life provide an entertaining distraction from the listing task at hand and help to set up an interesting subtext for each chapter. His interactions with his roommates and early memories of his parents all help to keep the reader engaged and sympathetic to his quest.
 
In a culture where technology has allowed the average joe to become an overnight  pop icon through an explosion of internet blogging, reality TV and documentaries, don’t be surprised by the rise of celebrity birders and listers. Sean himself had toyed with the idea of turning his big year in to a documentary. After investing in some expensive camera gear, he was left with about 40 hrs of unusable footage. "I think as much as anything I was looking for something to justifty my year. Saying I was taking a year off to make a documentary seemed easier than saying I was spending a year birdwatching. In this society being a wanker is socially unacceptable. Filming yourself while being a wanker, however, seems perfectly legitimate." (click here for a definition of wanker).
 
I am pretty sure that this book would be interesting even for a non-birder. I have never been to Australia myself, so the rarity of the birds means nothing to me, but that doesn’t matter. Sean has such a fresh, humorous writing style, that I was hooked. This really was a page turner. Telling any story that keeps the reader hooked is hard enough but imagine how hard it is writing a story about chasing after birds. Sean, however, has admirably succeeded. Even if it is the most pathetic great achievement in Australian history, it certainly was fun reading about it.

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