Back in July, I posted a few nonfiction recommendations and was super excited about Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk. Well, on Tuesday, Helen won the Samuel Johnson Prize, which is the UK’s top prize for nonfiction! It’s basically like winning a Booker for NF. Huge deal.

I am beyond thrilled — Helen is awesome, as is her book. It’s a memoir about her grief upon the sudden death of her father, her experience training a goshawk, and a biography of T.H. White (author of The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King), who was also a falconer who wrote about his attempt to train a goshawk.

In addition to being a writer and falconer, Helen’s a poet, so her writing is simply gorgeous. I’ve been chatting up the book to everyone, but don’t just take my word for it — she won the freaking SJ Prize!

Here’s a short BBC interview** with Helen from right after the awards announcement:

* Title grabbed from Mary:

** via another falconer friend, John/Dr. Hypercube


One of my morning rituals used to be opening Google Reader and scrolling through blog posts and other various feeds. Google Reader is now long gone, and even though I promptly switched to another service, these days I’m lucky if I check it once a week. Usually I’m so backlogged that I read a day’s worth of recent posts and then “Mark As Read” the rest.

This may have something to do with my own current lack of blogging practice. I started blogging in 2001 on my page at the MIT Media Lab. It’s been so long that I want to keep going, but I’m considering calling this one closed. At least for now. See — still having a hard time letting go!

Part of my lack of blogging is a matter of time. With a now 6-month old, I have to ruthlessly prioritize what I’m doing and be efficient about all of it. Thus far, blogging hasn’t made the cut. I think about potential posts — for example, we recently went to Greece for the first time! — but the experience ends up divided across other forms of social media.

Here I feel like I mostly write for myself, and I’ve lost a sense of what interests readers. If I do continue to post here, what would you like to read about?

— Life abroad/Travel?
— Link round ups to articles?
— Parenting/Education? (My husband was trying to convince me to write about this.)
— Personal?
— Reading?
— Writing/craft?

When time permits, I’m on Twitter. I find blog posts and articles that sound interesting through what my community there posts, and my reading has expanded because of that. I check Facebook. Despite my misgivings about the company, it’s my main way of staying in touch with extended family and friends from all walks of life.

On Facebook, I’m in several closed communities. We have discussions there that have helped me in real life so many times, from private parenting advice to practical tips for navigating life as an expat.

I write a newsletter that goes to family and friends. I read newsletters that friends send. I’m on a couple of private email lists that I can dip in and out of depending on time and availability. These communities don’t need my constant, active participation in order to exist and continue but accept the ebb and flow.

I’ve tried G+ and wanted to love it. The same goes for Tumblr, but I’m more of a retweeter than a reblogger. Pinterest was fun for the first several weeks, but it became irrelevant when I moved to Switzerland. I mostly used it for recipes, and I can’t find half of the ingredients here!

Recently, I joined Ello, which may end up filling my blogging void. Thus far, my community there is writing longer posts and tossing out ideas and questions for discussion. The people whom I’m following are making a conscious effort not to simply repost what’s already on Facebook or Twitter but to use the space in a new way. I appreciate that.

Now that I’ve posted my doubts about continuing to post here, I’ll probably end up doing it just to be contrary, but I would love feedback on which posts are the most interesting. And in case I don’t write for a while, please find me on other networks, and keep in touch!

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I don’t usually read a lot of nonfiction, but a few friends have recently published books that I’ve loved and highly recommend!

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is a must read for anyone who has anything to do with teenagers: parents, teachers, YA writers. One of danah’s gifts is her ability to take complex ideas and interactions and communicate them simply. Another is her empathy. She’s a researcher, and she’s an excellent listener, so teens talk to her and she translates their practices and habits for adults, using her expertise in social software to analyze and contextualize what they do. In this book, danah discusses how technology fits into the lives of teens and unpacks common misconceptions by adults (and especially by the media). She covers everything from bullying to internet predators to basic social networking habits.

I’ve mentioned Olivia’s books before and linked to an interview about The Trip to Echo Spring. I’m going to steal from myself in describing this book:

Olivia writes a blend of biography, autobiography, criticism, and travelogue. In her latest book, The Trip to Echo Spring (which was short listed for the Costa), she writes about alcoholism and writing by looking at the lives of six alcoholic writers and her own family’s history of alcoholism. The bigger theme across her work is on loneliness, creativity, and transgression. She’s such a good writer because of her empathy — she gives full pictures of the people she’s portraying without pathologizing or deifying them.

The content is compelling, but the prose — Olivia’s sentences are simply spectacular.

Jordan is the math teacher we all wish we had. In part, I think this is because he’s also a writer. In How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, he presents several powerful ideas from math. He doesn’t work out many equations, but he doesn’t shy away from complex ideas, so this isn’t “math for dummies.” Instead, he presents his ideas alongside applications (like how to win the lottery or how to better shield airplanes for combat situations) and history. He’s also hilarious. My husband, who’s very smart but doesn’t have a strong math background, enjoyed this as much as I did. Jordan respects his readers’ intelligence and gives them both the gifts of math and of great stories.

Finally, H is for Hawk isn’t out yet — the UK release date is July 31st, and it comes out in the US on March 3rd — but it’s the book I most want to read. Helen is a falconer, wonderful human, and brilliant writer. Here’s the official blurb:

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Sword and the Stone author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel’s world. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity.

By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement; a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast; and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.

Reviews are coming out now, and the Financial Times ends its review with:

You can write from the head or from the heart, from the intellect or the emotions. The best kind of writing – and it is rare – does both those things at once. It’s rare because it can be so very painful to produce, the discipline required to sit with raw feelings and turn them into ordered words not unlike the courage it would take to hold your hand on a hot radiator until it burns, and then force it back there, again and again.

Macdonald has done just that, and the result is a deeply human work shot through, like cloth of gold, with intelligence and compassion – an exemplar of the mysterious alchemy by which suffering can be transmuted into beauty. I will be surprised if a better book than H is for Hawk is published this year.

Needless to say, I’ve preordered from the UK!