H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald

Library e-book

This book, arrrgh! *grasps chest* Thiiis Boook!! Easily my favorite book I've read so far this year. I didn't read it because it's a New York Times bestseller (what's that?) or a winner of multiple literary awards (sounds neat-o, but I don't care). I, in all earnestness, read it because I recognized that the illustration on the cover was some sort of relief print (either lino-cut or woodcut - I was a printmaking student in college). All of those honors heaped upon this book was a complete waste on me. But more importantly, I wanted to read it because I love books on natural science and I did recognize that this book was gaining popularity in the literary crowd. I love natural science, but I've never visited a popular bookstore or library where their natural sciences were well trodden. It's unusual for this sort of thing to really shoot up on the best seller's list. Even though I would have been interested in this book no matter what, I think my interest in reading it was heightened just a tad more.

I was not anticipating this book to be a sum of what it actually was - it was more than a little book about hawks. I suppose that's why it's more widely loved - if it were just about hawks it wouldn't be so popular. H is for Hawk is a memoir about Helen Macdonald dealing with the death of her father. Ever since childhood, she's been obsessed with falcons, hawks, and other birds of prey. She'd even convinced her parents to take her to a falconry hunt. Now as an adult, he's an adjunct history professor, but overcoming her father's death has sent her back to her childhood obsession with hawks to where she has decided to train a goshawk. Goshawks, she'd been warned, are incredibly difficult to train. But maybe this is just the challenge she needs to keep her from wallowing.
During any particular stage of grief, most of us are recommended to read Eat, Pray, Love to help with the coping. (I know it was overwhelmingly prescribed to me.) While Elizabeth's wisdom is very helpful in Eat, Pray, Love, how many of us would actually be able to globe trot the way that she did following a divorce? Maybe some of us can, but I can promise that a huge percentage of the readers who made her book a best seller couldn't have. We were forced to live vicariously through her, though many of us were moved nonetheless. While certainly for various reasons most of us couldn't and wouldn't be able to train a hawk in response to loss or heart break, somehow it feels (to me, at least) more accessible. In her fits of mania, I recognized myself. Though we've grieved over different kinds of loss, grief is still the same.
So, this book is about ecology, dealing with grief, a little about a woman falconer, and a brief biography on the author T.H. White who not only wrote The Once and Future King, but wrote a masterpiece of a book called The Goshawk - very influential in Helen's training of her goshawk.

This book moved me deeply and may be the best thing I've read so far this year. Not only is it beautifully written, but I get it, I get it. I get wanting to hide from humanity and retreating (almost dangerously far) into a more wild world just a step apart from the one we live in now. I get it. For that reason alone, I can recommend this book highly, but I don't know if everyone will feel what she's saying. That felt so deeply personal, it's like she read my diary from 3 years ago, plagiarized my sketch books from across the Atlantic ocean, it's like she was "killing me softly." But I know she didn't, because even though everyone deals with their grief differently, it's still the same thing.

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