H Is for Hawk

By Helen MacDonald,

Book cover of H Is for Hawk

Book description

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times,…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked H Is for Hawk as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

There are some books you just need. Before I’d even finished my library copy, I’d gone and bought my own; otherwise I couldn’t have given it back. On the face of it, this is nature writing; MacDonald weaves an account of her relationship with a pet goshawk into the story of T.H. White and his own writing of The Goshawk before his King Arthur stories made him famous. It’s a place, this book: a landscape, a psychology, and a sensitive, compassionate history. MacDonald reaches deep into our past – not just the Arthurian lore, but the mythology of animals and…

In glittering prose, this British author writes how she came apart after her father’s sudden heart attack, and how his death broke her. I was struck by the intensity and darkness of her grief, and how she coped with it. Captivated by falconry since childhood, Macdonald grieves by buying a young goshawk, naming her Mabel, and going through the painful training of Mabel. The bird changes, growing into an adult hawk that returns to Helen after flying free. And so did Macdonald change. She wrote that, as time passed, it worked its careful magic: her grief gave way to love,…

Look, you don’t like memoirs, and I don’t have the slightest interest in falconry. Nevertheless—this book is transcendent. At once the story of a daughter grieving her father, it is also a year-in-the-life narrative of a woman learning to raise (and fly) a goshawk named Mabel, and, as if that weren’t enough, a sneaky literary biography of forgotten dinosaur (and hawk enthusiast) T.H. White. The book would have worked on any one of these levels, but braided together, it is a masterclass in narrative nonfiction. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be transported—and you’ll learn a lot of ornithology along…

Macdonald’s fierce determination to train a wild goshawk is at first puzzling: why is she choosing such a difficult, aggressive bird to train and sticking with it when she clearly is failing? As we learn about her close relationship with her recently deceased father, it becomes slowly, beautifully clear that the bird and the falconer--both injured in their own way—have much to give each other. I happened upon the book the year after my husband passed away and it was more helpful than any grief therapy.

I read this book before I lost my own father in January 2021, which makes it even more powerful for me now. I completely understand how the author, Helen MacDonald, became completely lost when her own father died. Like Helen, my father was a larger-than-life character and instead of throwing myself into training a falcon, I’ve thrown myself into working with the dog in my profile pic. What’s fantastic about this book is learning about the world of falconry, which is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Ms. MacDonald is a wonderful writer with a keen sense of place and time.…

From Ellyn's list on barking books with animals.

Her father died. She adopted a goshawk named Mabel and immersed herself in falconry. But of course. Grief works itself out in the damnedest ways, and I can totally relate to the connection between a parent’s death and entering into a relationship with a fierce and foreign species. As an added bonus, MacDonald is a magnificent writer. Gravity-defying because you can open your heart and let grief fly out.

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