The Hub

News, Notes, Talk

Helen Macdonald wishes she’d never read On the Road.

Book Marks

August 26, 2020, 11:03am

Book Marks logo

Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.

This week, we spoke to H Is for Hawk and Vesper Flights author Helen Macdonald.


Book Marks: First book you remember loving?

Helen Macdonald: A collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. I was so tiny I could barely read, but a Basil Rathbone film on tv had sparked a very early obsession with Holmes, and I pleaded with my parents to buy me the book, even though it was for grown-ups. I managed to read nearly all of it, despite not knowing the meaning of every fifth or sixth word. What was a Turkish slipper? What was Afghanistan, or a medical alkaloid? It didn’t seem to matter; I was entranced.

BM: Favorite re-read?

HM: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré. I’ve read it so many times I know great stretches of it by heart.

BM: A book that blew your mind?

HM: Ed Yong’s book about the human microbiome, I Contain Multitudes. Truly life-changing.

BM: Last book you read?

HM: Dashiell Hammett’s Red HarvestI had a huge love for hard-boiled detective fiction when I was a teenager and recently decided to revisit the books again. I’ve not been disappointed.

BM: A book that made you cry?

HM: I’m an extremely sentimental soul, and cry a lot. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer had me in absolute pieces.

BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?

HM: Jay Kirk’s Avoid the Day. Complex and difficult and raw and heartbreaking, and astonishingly brave in about a million different ways.

BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?

HM: Confession: I cry at the drop of a hat, but I can’t remember ever laughing out loud at a book. There must be something wrong with me.

BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?

HM: I wish I’d not read On the Road.

BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?

HM: For a while now, it’s been Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses.

BM: Classic book you hate?

HM: On the Road.

BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?

HM: How have I never read Bleak House?

BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?

HM: None. All the great sex scenes are to be found in internet fanfiction.

BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?

HM: Is it too awful to confess I can’t remember any? Wait—no, we definitely read Silas Marner, which is my least favorite George Eliot but had the advantage of being sufficiently short to hold the attention of a class of not-very-interested students.

BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?

HM: I’m very much enjoying a proof copy of Charlie Gilmour’s Featherhood, a memoir that is equally as sure-footed on the subject of extremely problematic fathers as it is on the care and rearing of orphaned magpies.

BM: Favorite children’s book?

HM: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin.

BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?

HM: I’d love to see a modern adaptation of Brat Farrar by Josephine Tay. It’s so, so good. As if Raymond Chandler had decided to write a series of Downton Abbey. Only better. Evil horses! English country houses! Subterfuge! Long cons! Murder!


Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator and naturalist, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the bestselling H Is for Hawk, as well as a cultural history of falcons, titled Falcon, and three collections of poetry, including Shaler’s Fish. Macdonald was a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, has worked as a professional falconer, and has assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia. She now writes for the New York Times Magazine.


Vesper Flights_Helen Macdonald

Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights is out now from Grove Press


· Previous entries in this series ·

%d bloggers like this: