Helen MacDonald

it’s international women’s day, and i’m not that big on hashtags (despite sporadic participation), but i’m all about opportunities to share asian-american and [east] asian books-in-translation (i admit/acknowledge that my geographic focus is narrow).  here are ten books by international women i love.

  1. banana yoshimoto, lizard (washington square press, 1995)
  2. marilynne robinson, lila (FSG, 2014)
  3. krys lee, drifting house (viking, 2012)
  4. ruth ozeki, a tale for the time being (penguin, 2013)
  5. mary shelly, frankenstein (penguin clothbound classics, 2013)
  6. han kang, human acts (portobello books, 2016)
  7. helen macdonald, h is for hawk (grove press, 2015)
  8. charlotte brontë, jane eyre (penguin clothbound classics, 2009)
  9. jang eun-jin, no one writes back (dalkey archive press, 2013)
  10. shin kyung-sook, i’ll be right there (other press, 2014)

also, one of my favorite book quotes comes from yoshimoto’s “helix,” a story which can be found in her collection, lizard:

“even when i have crushes on other men, i always see you in the curve of their eyebrows.”  (64)

happy international reading!

In England Have My Bones, White wrote one of the saddest sentences I have ever read: ‘Falling in love is a desolating experience, but not when it is with a countryside.’ He could not imagine a human love returned. He had to displace his desires onto the landscape, that great blank green field that cannot love you back, but cannot hurt you either.
—  Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk
There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.
—  Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk
Hay un tiempo en la vida en que esperas que el mundo esté siempre lleno de cosas nuevas. Y luego llega el día en que te das cuenta de que no será así en absoluto. Ves que la vida se convertirá en una cosa hecha de agujeros. De ausencias. De pérdidas. De cosas que estuvieron allí y ya no están. Y te das cuenta, además, de que tienes que crecer alrededor y entre los vacíos, aunque si alargas la mano hacia donde estaban las cosas sientas esa tensa, resplandeciente opacidad del espacio que ocupan los recuerdos.
—  Helen Macdonald, H de Halcón
A few years ago I met a retired U2 pilot. He was tall, flinty and handsome and had just the right kind of deadly stillness you’d expect from a man who’d spent years flying at the edge of space in a dusty-black American spy plane. […] as I talked with this man what impressed me most weren’t his deadpan tales of high adventure, the ‘incidents’ with Russian MiGs and so on, but his battle against boredom. The nine-hour solo missions. The twelve-hour solo missions. 'Wasn’t that horrendous?’ I asked. 'It could get a little lonely up there,’ he replied. But there was something about how he said it that made it sound a state still longed-for. And then he said something else. 'I used to read,’ he said, unexpectedly, and with that his face changed, and his voice too: his deadpan Yeager drawl slipped, was replaced with a shy, childlike enthusiasm. ’The Once and Future King. By T.H. White,’ he said. 'Have you heard of him? He’s an English writer. It’s a great book. I used to take that up, read it on the way out and the way back.’
'Wow,’ I said. 'Yes.’ Because this story struck me as extraordinary, and it still does. Once upon a time there was a man in a spacesuit in a secret reconnaissance plane reading The Once and Future King, that great historical epic, that comic, tragic, romantic retelling of the Arthurian legend that tussles with questions of war and aggression, and might, and right, and the matter of what a nation is or might be.
[…] I can’t help but think of a line written by the poet Marianne Moore: The cure for loneliness is solitude. And the solitude of the pilot in the spy-plane, seeing everything, touching nothing, reading The Once and Future King fifty thousand feet above the clouds - that makes my heart break, just a little, because of how lonely that is, and because of some things that have happened to me, and because T.H. White was one of the loneliest men alive.
—  H Is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald.
There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps …
—  Helen Macdonald, ‘H is for Hawk’
Gambling with a Goshawk

“The falconer and scientist Professor Tom Cade once described falconry as a kind of ‘high-intensity birdwatching.’ I thought it was a nice phrase, and an accurate one. But now I knew this was wrong. What I had just done was nothing like birdwatching. It was more like gambling, though the stakes were infinitely bloodier. At its heart was a willed loss of control. You pour your heart, your skill, your very soul, into a thing - into training a hawk, learning the form in racing or the numbers in cards - then relinquish control over it. That is the hook. Once the dice rolls, the horse runs, the hawk leaves the fist, you open yourself to luck and you cannot control the outcome. Yet everything you have done until that moment persuades you that you might be lucky. The hawk might catch her quarry, the cards might fall perfectly, the horse make it first past the post. That little space of irresolution is a strange place to be. You feel safe because you are entirely at the world’s mercy. It is a rush. You lose yourself in it. And so you run  towards those little shots of fate, where the world turns. That is the lure: that is why we lose ourselves… I had found my addiction on that day… It was as ruinous, in a way, as if I’d taken a needle and shot myself with heroin. I had taken flight to a place from which I didn’t want to ever return.

- Helen Macdonald, “H is for Hawk”

In England, ‘Have My Bones’ White wrote one of the saddest sentences I have ever read: ‘Falling in love is a desolating experience, but not when it is with a countryside.’ He could not imagine a human love returned. He had to displace his desires onto the landscape, that great, blank green field that cannot love you back, but cannot hurt you either.
—  Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk
There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, […]
—  Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk