I bet you didn't know falconry was a sport. I'm not talking Matty Ryan, Julio Jones, and a consistently underachieving football team. I'm talking real birds.
Allow me a minute to educate you: Falconry or hawking is sport that involves taming and training a bird of prey to hunt not for itself but for its trainer, who is referred to as a falconer. This sport was first developed more than three to four thousand years ago by Chinese and Persians. During the Middle Ages falconry was brought to Europe, where it was called the "sport of kings."
I bring this up because I wanted to talk about the book, H is for Hawk, and since I have now established that it is a sport, I can officially post it here. Helen Macdonald's story consists of her adopting and raising one of nature's most vicious predators. Fierce and feral, Helen's goshawk has a temperament that mirrors her own state of grief after her father's death, and together raptor and human "discover the pain and beauty of being alive."
First, I must say that this book was not a quick read for me, but full of starts and stops. I shouldn't have started it near the holidays--there's too much commotion. You'll want to savor the words in this book. This isn't a Starbucks sit down, it demands a comfortable chair, quiet room, and a window overlooking a barren winter landscape. There's a lot to chew on, and it is hard to chew on anything consistently when you have Santa Claus, three kids, and a dog that keeps dropping a tennis ball at your feet. But I was bound and determined to get through this on my terms, because I'm a sucker for quietly depressing stuff that eventually sparks hope and involves nature!
The book carries a beautiful thread that explores Helen's father's death and her grief. I really loved Macdonald's keen eye for so many of her father's nuances. It really made me think about my legacy with my own children, and how they are so in tune with every move you make. She has such an eye for the sensory minutia that profile her father. What will my kids remember about me when I'm dead? Now that's depressing.
There is then the overarching thread that deals with her bird(goshawk) Mabel. Macdonald purchases the bird after her father's death as a means of coping, and we are able to follow her as she interacts with this viciously beautiful creature in an attempt to train it--and really steady herself. It is fascinating to see who is really in control during the whole process, and it highlights our essential struggle to tame all that can't be tamed in life. It's quite beautiful. Of course, the descriptions of the actual sport and her interactions with the bird are amazing (I think people forget just how violent of predators hawks are!) If anything, you'll leave with an abundant knowledge of hawking to impress people with at your next social gathering!
As you can imagine, the writing is phenomenal. Helen is a mix of witty, sarcastic, brutally honest, self defacing, vulnerable, stubborn, and sweetly emotional. She has a voice that you want to love, and there are many times you feel like a friend standing along side her tending to Mabel.
Obviously this book is a must for public libraries. It was one of 2015 most prized titles. But where would it fit in a school library? Well, to be honest, I am not sure that it would be something flying off the shelves. This is, however, one of those special books in the collection to keep in your bag of tricks for the right occasion. You know, when there is a student whom you know could handle the material and might really "find" something in the book. I use Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in much the same way. That instant when a certain someone is looking for something that's "missing" and you quietly put a book like this in their hands, smile warmly, and say, "I think I've got something for you."