Monday, February 08, 2016
The book isn't always an easy read - partly because it's a few narrative threads running through, and because it is essentially a book on grief, on memories. Helen Macdonald tells of her experience trying to raise a hunting goshawk, even as she narrates the story of author T.H. White's (the author of The Once and Future King, the re-telling of the young Arthur's training under Merlyn) own neurotic attempt to raise a goshawk. For T.H. White, the desire to raise a goshawk comes from some self-seated self-loathing and anxieties over his own repressed homosexuality, for Helen Macdonald, it came soon after the death of her beloved father.
The two narratives run side by side in a somewhat lopsided fashion. T.H. White's narrative makes him seem like an odd, silly little man, throwing himself towards danger his entire life to prove his own masculinity to himself. That is sad, really, because he never could master the goshawk, and in the end lost it, by sheer negligence. Meanwhile, Helen Macdonald's grief was palpable through out the book, and her goshawk feels feral, alien and emotionally unavailable (I can't believe I am using this term for a bird of prey). The human trying to master the goshawk, and both learning that they would never quite tame the creature that is violence and murder, and both wondering if perhaps there is something within themselves that has been found wanting by their goshawk.
In the end, grief resolves itself. Nothing changed. Macdonald's hands are full of scars from the goshawk, and then there are the other scars, unseen. Yet time does heal, and she moved on, as she ends the book with her passing the goshawk to a friend for a few month; the goshawk would be moulting soon, and the next time she sees the goshawk, it shall be with a new set of feathers, and she will be different. Perhaps, that is Macdonald's own process of moulting, of shedding old grief, and growing new ones.
PS: Mid-way through the book last night, I came across a mention of Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring in H is for Hawk. It was an odd sort of synchronicity, because I had just picked up Olivia Laing's To the River earlier from the library. Soon after I finished H is for Hawk, I picked up and read To the River, and there in the page listing the Illustrations, was this credit: Map of the River Ouse, by Helen Macdonald.
Sometimes, it seems like my books are talking to one another, and they lead us to their friends by whispering to us through the pages.
- To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface • Olivia Laing
[ 08/02/2016 ~
- SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome • Mary Beard
[ 04/01/2016 ~
- Girl Waits with Gun • Amy Stewart
[ 01/02/2016 ~
- Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese • Patrick Leigh Fermor
- If the Oceans Were Ink • Carla Power
[ 15/08/2015 ~
- Go Tell It On the Mountain • James Baldwin
[ 11/12/2015 ~
- Baghdad Sketches (1932) • Freya Stark
- The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels (1934) [On Mazandaran, Iran]• Freya Stark
- The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (1936)•
- A Winter in Arabia (1940) [On Hadhramaut] •
- Perseus in the Wind (1948). [Essays on philosophy and literature] •
- Ionia, A Quest (1954) • Freya Stark
- The Lycian Shore (1956) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
- Alexander's Path: From Caria to Cilicia (1958) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
- The Zodiac Arch (1968) [Miscellaneous essays] • Freya Stark
- The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion into Afghanistan (1970) • Freya Stark
- Where the Stress Falls • Susan Sontag
- On Photography • Susan Sontag
- Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 • Susan Sontag
- Against Interpretation: And Other Essays • Susan Sontag
- As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 • Susan Sontag
- The Book of Disquiet • Fernando Pessoa
- Jane Eyre • Charlotte Bronte
- Venice • Jan Morris
- The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals • Michael Pollan
- In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
- Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation • Michael Pollan
- Bleak House • Charles Dickens
- The Age of Innocence • Edith Wharton
- A Time of Gifts (1977) • Patrick Leigh Fermor
- Between the Woods and the Water • Patrick Leigh Fermor
- The Broken Road • Patrick Leigh Fermor
- The Magician • W. Somerset Maugham
- River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West • Rebecca Solnit
- Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books • Azar Nafisi
[ 27/09/2015 ~
- I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen • Sylvie Simmons
[ 25/04/2015 ~
- Orlando • Virginia Woolf
- The Heart of the Matter • Graham Greene
- The Power and the Glory • Graham Greene
- Of Human Bondage • W. Somerset Maugham
- No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva • Pema Chodron
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts • Susan Cain
- The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot • Robert MacFarlane
- Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark • Janet Fletcher Geniesse
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks • Rebecca Skloot
- Felicity: Poems • Mary Oliver
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek • Annie Dillard
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Real Happiness: The Power of • Sharon Salzberg
- The Seven Storey Mountain • Thomas Merton
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind • Shunryu Suzuki
- The Pirate King • Laurie R. King
[ 23/12/2015 ~ 09/01/2016 ]
- Garment of Shadows • Laurie R. King
[ 09/01/2016 ~ 10/01/2016 ]
- My Life on the Road • Gloria Steinem
[ 09/01/2016 ~ 23/01/2016 ]
- Dreaming Spies • Laurie R. King
[ 11/01/1016 ~ 26/01/2016 ]
- The Argonauts • Maggie Nelson
[ 28/05/2015 ~ 29/01/2016 ]
- When Breath Becomes Air • Paul Kalanithi
[ 23/01/2016 ~ 30/01/2016 ]
- H is for Hawk • Helen Macdonald
[ 18/05/2015 ~ 08/02/2016 ]
Sunday, January 31, 2016
The author was a neurosurgeon who discovered he had lung cancer when he was in the 30s. Faced with the prospect of death, he began writing this book. He passed away before he could finish the book, and his wife, Lucy, ended it with an afterword.
It was a contemplative read. Kalanithi was a man of the arts and the sciences. I admired his insights, his questions, and how he truly believed in making meaning of his life's work.
I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain. Meaning, while a slippery concept, seemed inextricable from human relationships and moral values.Paul Kalanithi was truly an amazing man. A brilliant neurosurgeon, a kind man, and someone who could recite the poems of T.S. Eliot from memory. It should not have to take a medical emergency to force us to examine the meaning of our lives, yet most of the time, that's what is necessary. While reading the book, it does in a way lead me to consider how I am using the time in my own life, and those important questions. It was beautifully summed up in Lucy's afterword:
When Paul emailed his best friend in May 2013 to inform him that he had terminal cancer, he wrote, "The good news is I've already outlived two Brontes, Keats, and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven't written anything."It is not just about how long you have lived - but what have you done. Time to start writing.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Jan Morris, in an interview:
I believe you aren’t fond of the term “travel writer” - what do you prefer? Are you more of a historian of place in books like Venice?
Yes, I hate being called a travel writer. I have written only one book about travel, concerning a journey across the Oman desert. I have written many books about place, which are nothing to do with movement, but many more about people and about history. In fact, though, they are one and all about the effects of everything upon me – my books amount to one enormously self-centred autobiographical exposure! So I prefer to be described as simply – a writer …
Sunday, January 24, 2016
I have to admit my experience at the Sistine Chapel so many years ago wasn't the most profound. I was there with a friend, in a crowded chapel, the buzz of speeches in various languages all around me. It was tight, uncomfortable, and the Vatican security with their barrel-chest and tight suits kept growling, "No photo!" every time a flash went off.
I found this talk by art historian Elizabeth Lev, and she tells a wonderful tale of the stories in the murals, something that I wished I had a chance to experience when I was there so many years ago. In the setting that I viewed the Sistine Chapel, the story was underwhelming, which was a shame. I did come back from Rome later that year and read Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, which tells the story in novel form of Michelangelo's creative life.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Bowie took 400 books with him to Mexico to the shoot of 1976 film The Man Who To Earth. He told Mr Showbiz in 1997: "I was dead scared of leaving them in New York, because I was knocking around with some dodgy people and I didn't want them nicking any of my books."
That set a pattern of taking a travelling library on tour and Bowie said: "I had these cabinets – it was a travelling library – and they were rather like the boxes that amplifiers get packed up in. . . because of that period, I have an extraordinarily good collection of books."
Friday, January 08, 2016
I was on Twitter last night when I heard about Emma Watston's new feminist book club. (You go, girl). Our Shared Shelf (I love how Watson crowdsourced the naming of her bookclub on Twitter) is happening right now on Goodreads (yet another social media platform. Thankfully I am more active on Goodreads than Twitter)
I was curious about Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road. I can't recall who recommended it - but it was from a list of recommended titles that I came across, which make me take notice, and make a mental note to check it out. One day. So it wasn't that difficult to bump it higher up on To Be Read list (I'm still between Laurie R. King's The Pirate King, and Mary Beard's SPQR - both compelling reads.) So, I will try to get Gloria Steinem as soon as I can, so that I might be able to participate in Watson's book club discussion. (I am such a geek)
2016 looks like a good year for books!
Sunday, January 03, 2016
It seems to me that it takes a lot more thought to actually have something sensible and intelligent - or readable to say on blogs. It used to be that blogs were the main channel for people to share. Then the last few years we have tumblr, Facebook, twitter, Instagram (fill in the blanks on all other social media platforms) With the different platforms available, it just seems easier to post a picture, say something witty (or not) in less than 150 characters, and feel like I've shared something with the world. Even if that's just a picture of my lunch.
Since this is the new year, I am supposed to set an intention to guide my way forward.
It is my intention to live more intentionally, and with greater awareness of how I spend my time. This means more meaningful interaction, even on Facebook or other social media. I would like to blog more this year, and spend more time and thought on what I post - be a true content creator, rather than just content curator.
I am also in the middle of cleaning out my wardrobe - spring cleaning if you want to call it that. It's an endeavour that makes me marvel how much money I spent buying things. How did I end up with so many CDs, clothes and books? Oh, the books. And how so many of them unfortunately, are not yet read.
I'm culling the collection gradually. It really reminds me of the proverbial bird that is trying to wear down a mountain by brushing the mountain with a piece of silk every year. But, one must start, and keep going.
So, to continue with the theme of greater intention and awareness, I have started a record of my daily expenditure. If anything, this record of daily expenditure makes me realise just how much I spend on food and grocery every day. This probably explains why it's so hard to save money these days.
Most of all, I am watching my expenditure. There will be less buying of stuff this year, if I can help it. Less clothes, less books - as I try to get rid of the clutter. I feel weighted down in life lately. Perhaps it would do me good to let go more.
Books afterall, are available through the library.