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Summer Reading – H is for Hawk

Much of my time is consumed with reading, but it is almost always for a purpose: essays, assignments, proposals, drafts of papers, re-drafts of papers, papers for classes, for review..  This almost always means reading fast, with a goal: to measure, assess, hone, distil, critique and rewrite.  Often, it means hacking through tangled and cumbersome layers of scientific prose, to reveal the central narrative.

Then, for in a few days in midsummer, I get the chance to rediscover reading for pleasure: immersion in a book that grabs hold of your imagination and translates you to another place and another time. This year, my summer reading has got off to a cracking start with ‘H is for Hawk’.

Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk, alongside TH White's Goshawk.

Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’, alongside TH White’s ‘The Goshawk’

 

‘H is for Hawk’, written by Helen Macdonald and published by Jonathan Cape, is a dizzying, dazzling read that defies its rather sober classification (‘Nature Writing/Biography’). The book weaves together a deeply personal story of grief and loss, with the rediscovery of life lived through the training of a young goshawk. In places, the staccato text crunches like the twigs strewn across a forest floor; in others, it soars like the circling hawk, magnificent, alert to the slightest movements below. It contains some wonderful writing on nature, capturing the very essence of the countryside in just a few words, alongside some moving reflections on bereavement and the way that death changes in a moment the lives of the living, and our relationships with what was present and is now past. In parallel, and wrapped up closely with the training of her young goshawk, Helen Macdonald explores the life and writing of TH White, a teacher and writer of Arthurian novels who wrote of his own struggle to train a goshawk in the 1930’s.  The result is a book that works on several levels, and would reward re-reading: a beautiful and captivating read.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, published by Jonathan Cape, 2014. ISBN 9780224097000

The Goshawk by T.H. White. Reprinted 2007. ISBN 9781590172490

Update – in November 2014, Helen Macdonald was awarded the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for ‘the best non fiction book published in the UK’ for H is for Hawk.

 

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David Pyle is a volcanologist, and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. His first encounter with volcanoes was at the age of 7, when he visited Villarrica, Chile, shortly after an eruption. David studied geological sciences at the University of Cambridge, and later completed a PhD on the 'older' eruptions of Santorini, Greece. After a short post-doc at the California Institute of Technology, David returned to a lectureship in Cambridge. In 2006, he moved to his current post in Oxford. David tweets at @davidmpyle

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