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Defector Reads A Book

DRAB:H Is For Defector Reads A Bird: ‘H Is For Hawk’

Photo via Getty; cover via Grove Atlantic

Right now, in mid-June, Eurasian goshawks are patrolling their northern hunting grounds, snacking on birds and small mammals they've dive-bombed from perches in the woods. Soon, you will be snacking, not on critters per se, but rather upon the most celebrated book written about goshawks: Helen Macdonald's H Is For Hawk.

I lied a little. This book is not necessarily about goshawks. It's a memoir, one Macdonald wrote about grieving her father after he died suddenly of a heart attack. Falconry was integral to the grieving process, as she trained a goshawk named Mabel (I recommend the lead image on this BBC video), though I gather that this is one of those Why Fish Don't Exist–style books that is genre-bending but still also a work of nature writing.

My main contact with this book is a 2015 interview of Macdonald in the Los Angeles Review of Books, which convinced me to put it on my e-reader ... where it has sat un-e-read ... for a decade. The interviewer asked Macdonald about a line from the book on hunting with Mabel, and specifically the notion of concentrating "very hard on the process of not being there":

It’s a temperamental ability I shared with my father, to possess the “chameleon consciousness” of Keats. It’s very easy for me to empathize with other things, imagine I can see through their eyes. It was always a lovely escape when I was small. That radical disjunction between being a human and being a bird was amplified in response to grief. I desperately wanted to be that hawk. It’s very strange looking back on that now, that desperation. Quite often when I was writing the book I’d be swearing at myself as I was then: “What were you doing? What were you thinking?”


I'm sold, this will be fun. An unnamed Defector staffer said H Is For Hawk "slaps"; David Roth claims he's "been meaning to" read it for years. Together we will determine the degree to which it slaps, and whether Roth should have done so sooner, here on Tuesday, July 16. Happy hunting!

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