A Book (H is for Hawk) and a Movie (The First Monday in May)

I broke away from TV a little this week and finished up a book and saw a movie.

BOOK:  H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald 

I was excited to read this award-winning memoir by Helen McDonald as it was one of the top books of 2014 and has wonderful reviews. It started out well for me. Helen, a professor and life long falconer was overwhelmed with grief when her father suddenly died. To help her cope with her grief, she purchased a young Goshawk to train. Her descriptions of the hawk are poetic and her writing is often quite extraordinary which kept me going for a while. However, her descent into the deepest depression which made her unable to work, or function at all in society became a bit overwhelming as I kept going.

In addition to the parallel stories of grief and falconry, McDonald also focuses on TH White and his book the Goshawk, which chronicled his disastrous attempt to train a Goshawk – apparently one of the most difficult birds to handle.  At first, I found the constant references to this story interesting as I was unaware that the author of The Once and Future King was psychologically damaged let alone tried to train a Goshawk. However, as I got deeper into the book, the continual switching over to White became an irritant for me. I think her story is more gripping.

This book is difficult to write about. Many people out there think it is one of the best books they have ever read. While I appreciate the beauty of the prose, I struggled with getting through it. Depression is never easy to read about and this woman was almost completely non-functional. I couldn’t relate to grief of that magnitude nor could I relate to the Falconry aspect. In fact, I really dislike birds, which could explain my reluctance to embrace this book. Maybe if the animal that brought her out of her deep depression was a yellow Lab, it would have been more enjoyable. I just don’t get the Hawk thing. It seems totally barbaric to me to have a wild animal in your living room that is fed a constant diet of frozen chicks. When the bird goes out, it is all pretty brutal as well. I must admit to wishing the hawk would fly free even though it would have caused Ms. McDonald to completely self-destruct.

In the end,  this is a very personal memoir of grief, beautifully written that will resonate with many people. Despite all of its brilliance, it was a really difficult slog for me. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read this book but would suggest that there probably should be something in it that the reader can relate to.

MOVIE;  The First Monday in May

As we close in on the first Monday in May, it only seems appropriate that I see a movie chronicling the 2015 Met Gala and “China through the Looking Glass” exhibit. The Met Gala and corresponding spring exhibit close the Met down the first Monday of May each year (who knew?), hence the title. I agreed to go to this movie with a friend if she’d see Elvis and Nixon with me as I would never see something like this on my own but was pleasantly surprised.

I must say the movie kept me engaged. There was a lot of Anna Wintour as she owns the Gala and was a major player in the exhibit as well (seems as if the Devil Wears Prada is an accurate description of the Vogue Editor).   More interesting to me (well with the exception of how Anna does the seating arrangements of the rich and famous for the Gala) was the story of the Met Costume Institute Curator, Andrew Bolton, who is responsible for the exhibit. The movie took an in-depth look at the 10 months or so of him creating the exhibit and all the obstacles he encountered. This was fascinating from the perspective of what it takes to put together something like this. What wasn’t as well developed was how Mr. Bolton solved all these problems. They just magically dropped to the wayside and somehow, the exhibit opened on schedule.

The costumes used in the show were absolutely stunning and the process by which Mr. Bolton found them and arranged the exhibit was educational.  The end result was truly a work of art worthy of the Met.   Seeing so much of the exhibit for me, made the movie worthwhile. In the end, I didn’t fall asleep and got to see some great pieces of art along the way. It was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and made me long for a trip to NYC and a visit to this venerable institution.


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