H is for Hawk 8of25 #ReadwithRD

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H is for Hawk – written by Helen Macdonald as a memoir. I know, I’m about 4 years behind with this one! I think that when it came out in 2014/2015, I was probably a bit put off by the description, to be quite honest and also the fact that everyone was reading it.  It couldn’t be that good, could it? I dismissed it not just because of the cover, but also the story. Birds? Hunting? Pah. No thanks, not for me.

H is for HawkI picked this up because I was looking for a book which is near where I live, and this is set in East Anglia. I thought I’d read the first few pages, just to see, and then take it from there. Actually, what happened was that I devoured it faster than any book I’ve read in a long time (barring those read on journeys where you can’t do anything but read)

The basic premise is that a woman called Helen (H is for….Helen?) Macdonald, a college professor in Cambridgeshire, gets a goshawk to train. She does it because she is grieving, at least in part. Her Dad dies suddenly and she feels un-anchored. She starts thinking about her childhood and her passion for falconry, and this is woven into a tapestry which incorporates old hawking manuals, TH White’s biography and training Mabel. Mabel, the hawk.

It sounds like it would be cumbersome and unwieldy, but I really enjoyed the rhythm and the way Macdonald brought it all together, deftly managing the various strands into one coherent and passionate novel/memoir.

I also didn’t expect for it to be funny – and it is. Training Mabel is tense and I learned far more than I ever thought I would know about training falcons (jesses and hoods, twitches and beaters) and also found it fascinating. The explanation is never patronising or too technical and it’s always put into practice on Mabel so we, the readers, can see where Helen was taking us. The comedy is in the little things – the playtime between trainer and wild bird, the ludicrousness of doing so at a time where everything is up in the air.

 

If you haven’t read it yet (and you might be one of the last on the planet) I would highly recommend it.

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Norse Mythology 7of25 #ReadWithRD

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This has been a bit of a slow month for books after a pretty steady start for the first quarter of 2018.

Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher

I did read a book though (hooray) but only after reading about of half of The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher and a few other books too, but not managing to get into them.

A mini review of the Fisher: I do love Carrie Fisher. All I’ve read and seen of her, she seems like she was an inspirational and strong willed woman, albeit a bit difficult at times. I suspect that this is due to all the stuff she was managing and struggling with, to be honest – celebrity parents, a huge amount of fame at a really young age, a role which set her in stone the rest of her whole life, despite being a talented script and novel writer. She wrote Postcards from the Edge, and lent her skills to loads of other films she was in, usually uncredited. These reportedly include Hook and Lethal Weapon 3.  Thanks Slashfilm for the article.

The non-fiction book includes a relatively long section from Carrie, talking about her introduction to Star Wars and what she was doing – a real insight into her life at the time, forty years ago. The next section tips into transcript of her diaries from that time – poems and paragraphs, most of them about her relationship with Harrison Ford. Perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I felt that these sections were just too sad to enjoy. Nineteen year old Carrie is  so raw and exposed, as expected in a diary, of course, but with the benefit of  hindsight we know that it didn’t end in a wedding for Han and Leia, in real life, at least.

Something I am still learning to do is to put down a book I’m not enjoying, and pick up one that I do! It’s amazing how it’s easy to forget that, isn’t it?

I decided to ditch the ‘memoir’ book and cover the ‘a book based on a fairytale’. I’m assuming myths count as fairytales!

Norse Mythology coverI chose Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I have to confess, I’ve never read any Neil Gaiman. It’s not that I don’t want to, I’ve just never got around to it! After this though, I will be hunting down some more Gaiman.

The book starts at the beginning, which is a pretty good place to start. I did find all of the names and places to be a bit overwhelming, especially as I tried to remember them all! It would have been a bit more relaxing if Neil had popped in to say – “don’t worry, when I refer to these cats later on, I tell you who and what they are and where they live”, which makes it loads easier.

It’s made up of a series of short stories with a loose start-middle-end/Ragnarok narrative, telling stories of the children of the gods as well as life in Asgard and in the surrounding worlds. There are beautiful giants and ugly dwarves, daring feats of strength and cunning which usually centre around Thor and Loki (strong and clever, respectively). The tales have been re-imagined and I found that while reading it I had an odd ‘double layer’ in my brain where I was thinking about the Marvel world of Asgard and it’s inhabitants, but also recalling reading all of the stories a looooooooong time ago, so that in many of the stories I remembered what happened 2/3 of the way through. That sounds like it was annoying, but it was actually pretty cool, keeping up with my memories. I have no recollection of actually reading them but I was pretty keen on fables and myths as a child so that’s probably where I read up on those.

One thing that struck me about the Norse gods is that they all have a job, a thing they are in charge of. Thor is clearly god of Thunder, and there are others who make sure the weather is just right for crops, who make mountains and control the waves in the sea.  It’s an interesting concept to have a bunch of deities who actually have something to do, instead of sitting around eating grapes and drinking mead or watching the people of the world from a cloud in the sky.

I can recommend the book as an enjoyable read – looking forward to reading more Gaiman and if you have any titles to steer me towards, feel free!