Observant, sensitive, lyrical, wise.

READ REVIEW

FINDINGS

ESSAYS ON THE NATURAL AND UNNATURAL WORLD

Perceptive collection by a Scottish poet and essayist whose work is just beginning to drift across the Atlantic.

Jamie observes closely, reflects, considers, wonders. She ruminates on darkness: Why do we consider it “bad” and unnatural? She spends a season with some peregrine falcons, listening to the female scream at the male until they mate, then scream for more. Jamie observes salmon struggling up the River Braan and tries to sneak a peak at the reclusive corncrake, a bird now living only in the Hebrides. She spends hours with jars of surgical specimens some 200 years old; she takes a whale-watching cruise and is dazzled. She powerfully mingles the personal and the natural, helping us realize that they are, of course, the same. “Fever,” which relates her husband’s near-fatal attack of pneumonia, includes a lovely passage describing a doctor listening through a stethoscope to his damaged lungs. In “Sabbath,” perhaps the strongest piece in this strong assembly, Jamie recognizes the value of a day of reflection and wonders if it would be possible or desirable to disassociate such days from religion. She recalls that on 9/11 she was scheduled to do a reading in the Lake District village of Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home for 51 years. She decided not to cancel, and many folks came, looking that day for the solace that only words can offer. Although the author is preternaturally alert to the flora and fauna around her, she considers herself a novice and routinely consults books and authorities of all sorts. But she’s not afraid to offer her opinions: In “Skylines,” she takes her telescope and climbs Edinburgh’s Carlton Hill, from which she sees—and interprets for us—the symbols that she discerns on the city roofs.

Observant, sensitive, lyrical, wise.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-55597-445-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more