Brown Baggers met at Central on October 18 to discuss the memoir H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Published in 2014, H is for Hawk is part hawk training manual and part dissection of grief. A lifetime falconer, Macdonald decides to try training a much more difficult, larger, and stronger goshawk after her father suddenly dies. She reflects on her modern day experience through the lens of author T. H. White, who recounted his attempt in the book The Goshawk.
Readers really enjoyed Macdonald’s writing style. They found it beautiful and evocative, admiring how she seemed to meditate on each subject and the expert way she wove all of them together. Those who had listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, founding it equally compelling.
One of the most interesting parts of the book, readers found, was Macdonald’s examination of the feral in humans and the humanity in animals. The hawk she trained, Mabel, led her to a wild place deep in her grief but also led her back to her human self in the end. Readers who had no interest in birding, falconry, or hawks found themselves enthralled by the story despite its naturalist themes – a testament to her skill as a writer.
Some felt the process of training hawks was too violent and controlling, especially when hawks no longer serve a purpose of acquiring food for their handlers. Readers discussed whether it was necessary for the author to exert control over another animal to feel in control herself, after the loss of her father.
The sheer social isolation of the author was also discussed, as was the varying depth and experience of grief depending on the individual. While the prose makes it seem like she was completely without social contact while raising the hawk, she does have family, friends, and a professional and falconry community that kept her tethered while she grieved.
Brown Baggers will meet again on November 15 at noon to discuss The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.
Other titles mentioned:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
The Once and Future King by T. H. White (and other works)
Interview with author
PBS documentary (which Central is showing on 10/25 at 7pm)
National Geographic article about falconry in the U.A.E.
Information on falconry