Monday, May 01, 2006

"Falcon" by Helen Macdonald

How would I have known about this gem of a book if I hadn't been reading Fretmarks? I strongly suggest you head over there and have a little read. Don't just read what's there; go back and read a few postings as well. This is good writing. It's interesting, funny, moving and very different. There's even a good chance that at Fretmarks you might-gasp- learn something!

When our girl Pluvialis announced the release of her book I was so gripped with curiosity I had to buy it. I'm glad I did. It wasn't a risky purchase since I already knew how much I enjoyed her style. I was not disappointed!

"Falcon" is part of the Animal Series published by Reaktion Books. Other books have titles such as Dog, Bear, and Cockroach. Shudder. I think I'll pass on the Cockroach one...At 208 pages, this is a dense, satisfying read. The presentation of the book itself is excellent, with quality paper, elegant font, and amazing pictures. I can't help it, I fall for the packaging easily. If you want to keep me interested, I need my visual and tactile rewards! (In more simple terms, I likes my books with a few pictures in 'em.)

The book is set up in six chapters, all of which smoothly segue into the next; it doesn't read like a dry information lesson. At first, we learn about the falcons themselves, free of all the cultural and historical weight we have put on them. Helen shows us what the bird is, pure and simple. Species are discussed as well as anatomy and flight mechanics. In any other hands this could be just another science text book but Helen draws us in- Yes! I want to know what it's like to be a falcon!

The book covers Mythical falcons, Trained falcons, Threatened falcons, Military falcons, and Urban falcons.

I'm so tempted to say that this book is as much about us as it is about our feathered, elegant, fierce friends, but that wouldn't be fair to the falcons. This book is about them. But we can't learn about them without learning about how humans have interacted with them.

As humans, we see everything through the eyes of our own experience, and it appears that falcons have suffered or thrived because of this. Throughout history they have been revered or reviled, depending on what people need them for.

For example, it had never occurred to me that falconry had once been a sport of kings, but once wealthy men began hunting with rifles, those birds of prey became the competition.

Reading this was a fascinating look into a culture -falconry- that I wasn't familiar with. I couldn't help but think about horses as I read this. I really do believe that although our creatures are different, falconers and horse people share a kind of obsessiveness.

The most amazing thing about this book is the way the author pulls in the unexpected. Nothing gets past her. Pages are decorated with photos, diagrams, advertisements, rock band logos, movie publicity shots, old paintings and cartoons. Culture, pop culture and art coexist beautifully. She's got the hawk eyes (geddit?) to find all these connections and pull them together in a way that makes perfect sense. If you're sharp enough you might even find some sly humour!

I especially love the way the story ends. It's tempting to think that wild animals simply don't live in cities. But they do. Once you've read your way this far, it will make perfect sense that a falcon would be very comfortable nesting on a high rise building. We may think we rule the world or ruin the world; either way, the falcons don't care. They will keep doing what they do.

I gained a new appreciation for the falcon after reading this book. I found myself daydreaming about a perfect grey sky and a big haughty eye blinking at me.

Should you read this book? Yes. I suggest bringing a dictionary along. She's a sharp woman who uses words that I wasn't clear on; once I looked them up I realized that it truly was the best word for what she was telling us. Don't fear the big words! Embrace them! Let them love you!

It's not a light fluffy read. It's an involving, interesting read. This one, you soak up slowly.

Should you buy this book? Yes. If you love animals, nature, science, art, and history, you should own it, because you'll want to read it more than once.


Kari said...

Sounds like a cool book.

Kari said...

Oh and Falcon's kick ass!

Big Orange said...

harumm... I once read a book called "Rat" by an Austrian author, though it was told 1st person from the perspective OF the rat. THIS sounds more digestable!!

Also, being an elementary school teacher, I LOVE books for grownups with PICTURES! Gimmie pictures and artwork and drawings and I don't know what all!! Thanx for the recommendation!

Heidi the Hick said...

I never realized how cool falcons are until this!

And yes, more books for grownups with PICTURES!!

pluvialis said...

I agree so much with big orange and you: pictures are Important.

And, um, shamefacedly but also with a big grin, HEIDI! This review totally rocks my world! But it does mean, of course, that I'm duty bound to review your first book when it comes out, on MY blog. And then YOU will be the embarrassed one....bwaaa hahahaha..evil genius fade...

Matt Mullenix said...

"The most amazing thing about this book is the way the author pulls in the unexpected."

Heidi I'm going to send a Falcon review to our national hawking journal, and you've taken the best angles already! What am I going to say?? Well done! Now, stop it.

Heidi the Hick said...

Uh, sorry Matt. Love ya.

Pluvi, love you too. Can't wait to be embarrassed by you!!!!!