Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Vesper Flights

Title:  Vesper Flights
Author:  Helen Macdonald
Publication Information:  Grove Press. 2020. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0802128815 / 978-0802128812

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Back in the sixteenth century, a curious craze began to spread through the halls, palaces and houses of Europe."

Favorite Quote:  "Most of all I hope my work is about a thing that seems to me of the deepest possible importance in our present-day historical moment:  finding ways to recognize and love difference. The attempt to see through eyes that are not your own. To understand that your way of looking at the world is not the only one. To think what it might mean to love those that are not like you. To rejoice in the complexity of things."

I was originally introduced to Helen MacDonald's work through H is for Hawk. I kept reading about the book over a period of time until I finally decided to read it for myself. That book is a poignant journey through grief. Even though I know nothing about hawks or falconing, the emotion of that book resonated through the writing. It spoke to me.

Hence, I was excited to read this book. A "vesper" is an evening prayer. It is a time for contemplation and reflection. Some flights - of the birds - in this book are literal. Others - of thoughts and emotions - are figurative. The title symbolizes what the rest of the book presents - an interplay between philosophy and the natural world.

Vesper Flights is a collection of about 40 essays - some previously published and some new - on a wide variety of topics. In the introduction, the author describes the book as a wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosity which "held natural and artificial things together on shelves in close conjunction ... The wonder these collections kindled came in part from the ways in which their disparate contents spoke to one another of their similarities and differences in form, their beauties and manifest obscurities.

My review of this book has unfortunately been impacted by the fact that the version I received is one contiguous block of text. Although the finished book is comprised of a set of essays, the version I received has no divisions or other marking between the essays. As such, it is very challenging - if not impossible - to determine where one ends and the other begins. The quality of this writing is that it combines facts about the natural world with philosophical musings and interpretations about life in general. As such, it is not easy to identify topically where the author intended for the reader to pause and reflect on a unit. I am disappointed.

As with H is for Hawk, the writing is beautiful. I find myself underlining sentences. This book is not shy about making its stance and the author's viewpoints clear - whether on politics, climate change, immigration, the politics of climate change, the relationship between humans and the planet we inhabit, the relationships between humans, and other related topics. A reader's reaction to any particular essay will likely depend on their outlook on that issue. However, knowing who Helen MacDonald is and what she does, would you pick up her book if you were not similarly included? Probably not.

Not only does the book traverse topics, it travels to different parts of the globe, pulling in stories that demonstrate the interconnectedness of us all. Even without any overt statements as to that global connection, the compilation itself makes that point.

I think I will have to start this book over with the proper demarkations. I will keep it on my side table, pick it up and read one essay at time, perhaps in order perhaps randomly, at times when I need to feel that connection and grounding in the natural world.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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