Welcome to Week 3 of Nonfiction November! This week we’re discussing Nontraditional Nonfiction and your host is Rebecca at I’m Lost in Books, so make sure you head on over to her blog and add your links!
This week’s prompt is:
This week we will be focusing on the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction. Nonfiction comes in many forms. There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts. So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats. We want to hear all about it this week!
Recently, I’ve been listening to more and more nonfiction on audio. Part of the reason is that I’m, in general, reading a lot more nonfiction, so it makes sense that my audiobook nonfiction reads would increase as well. But I’ve also just found that I really enjoy nonfiction on audio. I’m a captive audience in my car and I like spending that time learning about something new. The last audiobook I finished, though, I think is the best nonfiction audio I’ve listened to yet.
I’m sure I would have been just as impressed with H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald if I had read it, but it is one of those books where the audiobook adds to the story. It is a book I listened to because of Nonfiction November. I purchased it a few months ago, but it was near the bottom of my possible choices for audiobooks for this month. All that changed after the first week of Nonfiction November. So many people recommended it and I can’t thank you enough. H is for Hawk is part memoir about the author’s grief after her father’s death and her experiences raising a goshawk, part a history of falconry as a sport, and part biography of the novelist TH White. It’s a book that tries to be many things and somehow succeeds at all, seamlessly weaving these three elements into a stunning book.
What sets H is for Hawk apart as an audiobook is that it is narrated by the author herself. Authors are not actors and it’s not always for the best when they do the narration for their own books. (And, to be fair, it’s not always for the best when famous actors narrate audiobooks. I’m looking at you, awful audiobook version of The Great Gatsby read by Tim Robbins.) But Macdonald is a magnificent narrator and it adds an element to this memoir that I would miss in print. I think I am lacking the vocabulary to explain why this narration feels more powerful than other audiobook memoirs I have listened to in the past, so I apologize if this doesn’t make sense. There is not necessarily any overt display of emotion during the narration, but there are moments when Macdonald reads her own words in a way that it seems no one else could. Though the shifts in her voice and narration are subtle, you feel what she is feeling, and it makes the audiobook feel more personal.
One benefit that print has over audio is the ability to reread particularly beautiful passages and to linger over perfect phrasing. I mostly listen to audiobooks when I’m driving, so it’s difficult to bookmark or go back and relisten to parts of audiobooks. It’s the one thing I wish I could have done listening to H is for Hawk. Not only is this memoir engaging for its story, but it’s beautifully written with evocative prose that I wish I could quote for you here. There are turns of phrase in H is for Hawk that feel wholly original and new that transport you immediately to the forests of England.
I really can’t recommend H is for Hawk enough and I can’t recommend the audiobook enough. I have no doubt that it is one of my favorite books of the year.