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The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year

The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year


Book Overview: The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year

From the beloved New York Times opinion writer and bestselling author of Late Migrations comes a "howling love letter to the world" (Ann Patchett): a luminous book that traces the passing of seasons, personal and natural.

In The Comfort of Crows, Margaret Renkl presents a literary devotional: fifty-two chapters that follow the creatures and plants in her backyard over the course of a year. As we move through the seasons--from a crow spied on New Year's Day, its resourcefulness and sense of community setting a theme for the year, to the lingering bluebirds of December, revisiting the nest box they used in spring--what develops is a portrait of joy and grief: joy in the ongoing pleasures of the natural world, and grief over winters that end too soon and songbirds that grow fewer and fewer.

Along the way, we also glimpse the changing rhythms of a human life. Grown children, unexpectedly home during the pandemic, prepare to depart once more. Birdsong and night-blooming flowers evoke generations past. The city and the country where Renkl raised her family transform a little more with each passing day. And the natural world, now in visible flux, requires every ounce of hope and commitment from the author--and from us. For, as Renkl writes, "radiant things are bursting forth in the darkest places, in the smallest nooks and deepest cracks of the hidden world."

With fifty-two original color artworks by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, The Comfort of Crows is a lovely and deeply moving book from a cherished observer of the natural world.

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PublisherSpiegel & Grau LLC
Publication Date2023
Dimensionsin x in x in
Weight lbs

"One of Renkl's skills as a writer is to transfer her ability to perceive the nuances of the natural world, things most of us overlook, onto the page. In The Comfort of Crows . . . her powers of perception are on full display. . . . Paying attention to the living things in her backyard helps her cope with climate change, political strife and cultural upheaval--and she hopes it will help the reader, too." --New York Times

"[A] beautiful tangle of human and other-animal lives . . . Starting in winter and continuing through the seasonal round, Renkl brings alive in 52 chapters her love for the animals and plants in her half-acre yard in Tennessee and in nearby parks. Equally moving, she confesses her despair at the human-caused crises the natural world faces, and her determination not to sit idle." --NPR.org

"Above all, The Comfort of Crows is a full-throated ode to the hopefulness of regeneration. . . . It is a paean not just to the natural world, but to paying attention and doing one's bit to nurture it. . . . The Comfort of Crows is beautifully enhanced by 52 lavish, full-color illustrations by Billy Renkl, the author's brother. His lush, multilayered drawings of spiders, hummingbirds and pileated woodpeckers shown in both natural and unnatural habitats evoke Asian scrolls, collages and intriguing exercises in perspective." --Wall Street Journal

"The Comfort of Crows is a howling love letter to the world, the story of what we've lost and what we can save and the abundance of wonder in our own backyard. Margaret Renkl is a singular, spectacular writer, and this book, like life itself, is a cause for celebration." --Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

"Reading Margaret Renkl always connects me more deeply to the natural world and to my own heart. The Comfort of Crows is an elegy, a provocation, and above all a love letter to the magnificence that still surrounds us, if only we are awake enough to look. I want to press it into the hands of everyone I know." --Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

"Whether describing bluebird nests or her own empty one, Renkl is part poetic prophet, part your down-home friend. In essays adorned by her brother's art, she meditates on family, loss and nature under siege. 'The world is full of song, ' she writes--wake up and listen!" --People

"Contains enough beauty, heartache and hope to fill a Russian novel . . . I am a big fan of good nature writing, and Renkl is among the best at it. I'm still marveling at the way she rhapsodizes over a toad, describing it as being 'as soft as a great-grandmother you can hold in your hand.'" --Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"The Comfort of Crows is [Renkl's] best yet. Quietly, poetically, she writes of the natural cycle of a year in her backyard, as well as of her own passage into the final third of her life. . . . Many a plant or creature inspires Renkl's appreciation, and as a result, our own. It is possible that after reading this deceptively simple, charming book, you will plant a chair in a . . . backyard and discover things you've never seen before. And what could be more buoying than that?" --Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Margaret Renkl has the mind of a naturalist and the soul of a poet. Let this magnificent devotional be your eye-opening, heart-expanding daily companion, and it will change how you see the world."--Mary Laura Philpott, author of Bomb Shelter

"This is a lovely prayer book centered on plants and animals, an important reminder of grace and of the necessity of placing public green spaces in reach of everyone."--Catherine Raven, author of Fox & I

"Infused with empathy, The Comfort of Crows reminds us to treasure the living beings who surround us with each breath we take. Renkl's insights root us within our world. . . . The book can be read straight through or stretched across the calendar as a weekly literary devotional. Billy Renkl's stunning collages provide an invitation to meditate, to pray, to breathe."--BookPage (starred review)

"Luminous . . . Elegant, lucid essays follow the changing seasons, Renkl musing on the migratory and nesting patterns of birds, the encroaching effects of climate change, her own evolving family structure, and the incremental shifts of flora, fauna, and light. . . . The Comfort of Crows celebrates the beauty and durability of nature's age-old cycles and the habits of wild creatures, and it urges human beings to care for these same creatures--before some of them disappear altogether."--Shelf Awareness

"Renkl invites readers along on a year of loving outdoor observations in this gently moving memoir. . . . This gorgeous reflection on humanity's symbiotic relationship with the outdoors will transform the way readers interact with their own backyards."--Publishers Weekly

"This triumph of a book gives us a charming and wise friend to guide us over the course of a year, but I am certain Margaret Renkl's enchanting voice will echo for lifetimes to come. The Comfort of Crows is an instant classic, not just for the planet, but--and most importantly--for our hearts too."--Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of World of Wonders

"Insightful . . . Among the touching and relatable moments that nature lovers will appreciate are Renkl's memories of catching tadpoles in spring with her brother as a child in Alabama, the sound of summer thunderstorms and cicadas, and the unparalleled beauty of autumn light, 'the loveliest light there is'. . . . A welcome escape from the hectic world."--Kirkus

"Sprinkled liberally throughout are 'praise songs' . . . These little extras, just like the epigrams at the beginning of each essay, pack an extra punch into this tidy volume. . . . Readers can return to these pages often, through the seasons of their own lives."--Booklist

Margaret Renkl is a distinguished American author and opinion writer recognized for her profound contributions in the field of contemporary literature and journalism. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Renkl’s southern roots have greatly influenced her perspective of the world, an influence palpably present in both her writings and essays. Holding a Bachelor's degree in English from Auburn University and a Master's from the University of South Carolina, she's crafted her ability to weave touchingly humane tales with deep-seated cultural narratives. Primarily known for her debut novel, "Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss", Renkl expertly interlaces rich familial anecdotes with keen observations of nature, reflecting her deep adoration for the Southern homeland. This critically acclimated memoir, along with several other short writings, establish Renkl’s exquisite gift of finding an extraordinary essence within the ordinary. Her writings have graced the pages of renowned publications like The New York Times, where she serves as an esteemed opinion writer, along with Guernica, Literary Hub, Proximity, and Brevity. Margaret Renkl's reputation as a teller of deeply personal and evocative stories resonates with a wide spectrum of readers. Her work, basking in the beauty of simple, everyday life against the backdrop of the wondrous natural world, serves as a soothing ode to the South. Renkl’s unique narrative style inspires readers to find beauty in the mundane and appreciate the ordinary – a distinguished signature of her celebrated body of work.

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