H is for Hawk

Monday, February 19, 2018

H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald, 2014

Read Harder Challenge - A book about nature
Premise: A memoir about grief, falconry, English history, and a human connection with the natural world.

I was in the mood for something different recently, so I tried out this well-reviewed memoir. It's a fascinating piece, although not (in my opinion) perfect.

After her father's sudden death, the author retreated into her lifelong obsession with birds and raised and trained a young goshawk. The book includes not only the story of her relationship with Mabel throughout a year of grieving and perspectives on modern falconry but also a parallel story of T. H. White's book about training a goshawk, and his relationships with both animals and people.

The writing is beautiful. I can't say that enough.The descriptions are deliciously tangible and her explanations of her emotions are tremendously vivid.

I loved her descriptions and musings on her relationship with her hawk and with the natural world in general. Her complicated feelings about classic writing on falconry were fascinating as well. She acknowledges the classism and sexism that the history of the sport entails, and she both appreciates what those writers had to say and questions their perspectives.

I found what the author herself called the "shadow biography" of T. H. White interesting, but not as compelling as the author's own story. Unfortunately, because life doesn't come with tidy narrative arcs, there was a section about two-thirds of the way through that dragged for me. It just felt as though the book meandered for a while before getting back on track.

In the end, I think the writing is lovely and the subject interesting. The slow formation of theories about the human need for connection with nature and how we read meaning into animals or landscapes or nations was a bit hit or miss for me. I think it worked by the end.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Doomsday Book

Monday, February 5, 2018

Doomsday Book
Connie Willis, 1992

Hugo Winner -1993

Premise: In the near future, an Oxford academic is sent back in time to study day-to-day life in the middle ages. When illness strikes in both the future and the past, she may never see home again.

I really struggled with this book.

This might be an example of a book in which I would have been better off reading the description. This is not a book with a great plot or great characters. It's an examination of suffering, hope, and human connection, as well as an awkwardly forced repeated metaphor for God. My problem was that I didn't know that going in, and so I kept looking for the plot.

The time travel isn't important. The people in the present/future aren't that important or interesting either. I kept spinning theories about what the big reveal was going to be, and then there wasn't one.

The writing is compelling and nuanced, which is why it kept frustrating me that I couldn't figure out what was going on, or when possible plotlines came to not much. It's just descriptions of suffering and death and compassion in the face of suffering and death.

This is all fine, but it wasn't what I was expecting.

I was just left thinking, that was a lovely experience in parts, but what's the point? Why did these characters do any of the things they did? (On a certain level, the main character gains a measure of adulthood and grace through the horrible deaths of a bunch of people, which is pretty icky when you think about it like that.)

Is it just that people in all times suffer and struggle, and their suffering is real to them and we shouldn't forget that when studying the past? I think I knew that.

I don't know. It's well done, but it wasn't satisfying for me.

3 Stars - A Good Book