“Hunting makes you animal, but the death of an animal makes you human.”

hisforhawkBrown 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)

More information:
Interview with author
Second interview
Author bio
PBS documentary (which Central is showing on 10/25 at 7pm)
National Geographic article about falconry in the U.A.E.
Information on falconry

“I tried to divine which day the world became theirs.”

english_passengersThe Brown Baggers Book group read English Passengers by Matthew Kneale and met on February 16 to discuss it. There were mixed reviews among the book club members.

English Passengers was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction, won the 2000 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, the Australian Miles Franklin Award, and France’s Relay Prix d’Evasion.

This book is a historical novel set during the age of British colonialism and is told by about 20 different narrators. The story spans decades and follows two timelines, 30 years apart. In one storyline, a Manx captain and his band of rum smugglers have a difficult time off-loading their merchandise and end up becoming a passenger ship in order to pay fines imposed on them by British customs officials. Their passengers included a reverend who believed the Garden of Eden is located in Tasmania, a botanist, and a doctor who had sketchy views about the different races of men.

The book also followed the storyline of Peevay, a Tasmanian Aborigine, who was half-aborigine and half-white. The beginning of Peevay’s story was the time period when the British invaded Tasmania and started to decimate the Aboriginal population. The reader learns through Peevay what atrocities the Aborigines experienced at the hands of the British settlers. The two stories and timelines meet up when the Manx ship finally makes it to Tasmania.

Peevay was a favorite character of the book group. Book club members noted that Peevay’s narration had the best language and descriptions of events and really engaged the reader. Other members also enjoyed reading the captain’s storyline and how he managed his interesting passengers.

Other Information
About the author:
http://www.matthewkneale.net/

Reviews of the book:
From the New York Times
From BookPage
From Publisher’s Weekly

Similar Reads:
Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Morality Play by Barry Unsworth
Quarantine by Jim Crace

More Information about the history of Australia:
From the Australian Government
About British convicts who were sent to Australia
About Indigenous Australians

Join the Brown Baggers next month on Thursday, March 16 at noon for Silver Sparrow, the NEA Big Read 2017 selection.