This is a teeny, tiny step in that direction, and I do hope you'll be patient with me as I totter tentatively back onto the path. I have managed to keep adding titles read this year to a single draft post, and perhaps I'll post that soon rather than waiting until the end of the year as I usually do -- that way, you'll see that I have been reading steadily even though I've not managed to write, here at least, about any of that reading. Meanwhile, though, now that my teaching term is over and I'm just tying up loose ends at work over the next few weeks, cleaning out my office, saying my good-byes; now that my week in Paris is over and I've shaken off most of the jet-lag; now that I've dead-headed the rampant cornflowers and pruned back the wild roses. . . . let me share a couple of titles with you.
Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk. This astonishing memoir is everything that any reviewer has written about it. Deeply, painfully, at times, elegiac, it's a mesmerizing account of the author's training of a goshawk in the wake of her father's death. The book also traces her fellowship, since childhood, with other falconers, both the (mostly male) contemporary ones who -- oh, I must avoid saying "take her under their wings," mustn't I?! -- share the mysteries of their craft with her and those she meets through literature on the topic, old books she's collected over the years. In fact, Macdonald's memoir is structured as much by one of those old books as by her mourning of her father or her chronological account of training Mabel: as she untangles T.H. White's troubled life -- his lonely, difficult childhood, his closeted and tormented sexuality, his yearning for intimacy and love, his recourse to the magical world he wrote in The Once and Future King -- she compares the doomed training of Gos that he records in The Goshawk with her own fears and challenges and eventual success with Mabel. Doing so, she also weaves in memories of a warm, close relationship with a loving, supportive father, and limns the contours of the devastation she, her mother, and her brother experienced in their sudden loss. As well, she offers a fascinating natural history that mixes together bird lore with the rich ecology of English forests (now and as they were) -- and a cultural history that meshes in interesting ways with some other reading I've been doing (that whole 1930s-ish fascination with walking the countryside, for example, particularly as manifest in British literature; Robert MacFarlane's The Old Ways; Sara Maitland's Gossip from the Forest). And the nomenclature and paraphernalia associated with hawking -- just marvelous, really!
As well, I've just finished reading Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, the first in what will apparently be a series of four, three of which are already completed, with the fourth and final novel to be published this fall. I already regret that I purchased My Brilliant Friend as an e-book for my Kobo reader, and I've ordered the second and third books in their print versions -- I'll probably get a print copy of MBF as well. These are books to savour, to make notes in the margins, underline favourite passages, leave comments for my future self and for other readers in the front pages. . . .The descriptions, first of all, of place, of 1950s Naples, its poverty but also its liveliness, intrigues, community, social constrictions -- and particularly the compelling attention to close female friendship. This attention depicts a particular friendship in such a particular time and place -- two young girls whose bond is built of their mutual intelligence and attitude to scholarship, an intelligence and scholarship which mark their difference and their potential escape route from their community while conferring upon them a certain status, but one which must be managed carefully. They support each other, but there is a constant note of competition that denies any possibility of real trust, and questions what friendship might mean for either -- their intense connection is as close as any of them will get to friendship, at least by the time the first novel closes. Despite the particular nature of the friendship, there is so much here that will surely recall to many readers the fraught intensity of girlhood, the confidences betrayed, the peculiar colouring of long-long-ago intimacies, and the way their light and warmth continue to be cast on our later years. . .
Given that I'm trying to move back to semi-regular posting, I am going to Click on "Publish" now, rather than revise and edit as perhaps I should. Let me know if you've read either of these OR come back later if you're inspired to do so and tell me what you think.