I just had to yell at someone on the phone to do something I needed to be done via customer service. The last thing the company wants me to do. I had to bust it out. I have some conscience about it because that’s not my standard operating procedure and I ended politely but man. It’s time to write my post now to cover a much more fun item on the to do list for this day. This day that is promising that spring is real.
My toenails are even painted. A sure sign of warmer days to come.
I might have poured me a drink but lets press on, shall we?
I really like it when BookRiot coincides with items I have had on the TBR and already own. This one came highly lauded from all angles, so it was inevitable, so when my library website said it counted under the nature genre, the decision was MADE. In a matter of moments, which is impressive, because nature is something I am more likely to read if I wander into the less familiar and less loved territory of the nonfiction. I had many contenders for this, even among my current collection of kindle and audiobooks. Like, The Secret Life of Lobsters, which I also want to read. And a book on reading the clues in water!
For a lot of years grad school seduced me into thinking that nonfiction would be my eventual publishing jam. And nonfiction is a beautiful thing. If you can pull off a good juxtaposition between two seemingly disparate things, I will sit back and marvel at your artistry.
And that is exactly what I did.
A Book About Nature:
H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
The only thing that isn’t excellent about this novel, other than the fact that this is a true story of MacDonald’s descent into the blackness of depression, is the title. I understand it’s high praise. It even manages to cling to four stars on Amazon after over 1400 reviews, which I also consider a feat because when I am looking up prizewinners some of them only bat a solid three and with not nearly so many reviews. But H is for Hawk sounds…elementary. And while reconciling with one of nature’s beasts can be thought of as elemental, I would hardly consider it elementary. And the title makes it sound so.
The surprise in this mesmerizing work was her ties to TH White and one of my favorite childhood stories, The Sword in the Stone. Of course it was the Disney movie that I really loved and continue to love to this day, not necessarily the actual book that White wrote that I did find and read over a summer in high school. I did love that too, but the realities and non disney-fied elements of medieval England aren’t quite the same. I prefer my Disney-esque illusions and I know I am not alone in this. Also, interesting, he wrote another edition in the fifties that left out the fight with Madam Mim, which was one of my favorite bits of the movie, and I consider that kind of editing a travesty.
But she talks about the parallels between her relationship with a hawk she buys after her father’s death for focus and carrying out a passion that had started when she was a child to his book, The Goshawk, and his repressed, unrealized life. And how his later creative works fit into that. I got to better know a man I had had some interest in and didn’t know that I would when I picked this book up. So that was the fun surprise element for me. I knew it was about her relationship with a wild hawk, I knew she struggled with a complicated grief, but I did not know that I would better know someone who wrote something that I loved as a child. Bonus.
She weaves her narrative of grief and losing her ground with the history of England as well as her family, with how the two wars shaped the emotional landscape of the country. Having never lived in a country at a time where people had lived through a war on our soil, I don’t always think about how it shapes a nations’ consciousness.
And it helps generate some empathy with mental illness. Because grief is so common I feel that people are more understanding with it in general, but anything that helps not paint the suffering black is always something I can support.
It’s a heavy book but it kept me reading and listening. My noveling slowed between drafts so I was able to download a book to ravage in the course of a week. And I loved it. I loved being back in a book for a week.
This book is heavy but it is poetic, somehow magical without having any magic in it, and worth your time.
Plus, there’s the magic of Spring and the magic of having drafted another novel, so I know that magic is real.