To celebrate the inaugural selection of the InsideHook Book Club, Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights, I was lucky to spend a little time talking with the author from her home in England earlier this month.
We picked Helen’s book because it’s part of what we consider to be a new canon of books about nature. I think there’s probably this misconception that to write about the natural world you have to be Henry David Thoreau or John Muir, some man of the woods who needs to get away from it all just to be alone with the sound of birds chirping and his own thoughts. That’s a nice image, but as Helen points out, she’s just as happy sitting on her couch watching action movies as she is wandering around watching tree branches blow in the wind.
Still, her way of looking at the natural world is something that can give any of us hope even in these most unhopeful of times. In some ways, it’s like going back and reading Brauch Spinoza or Thoreau; Macdonald that there’s something bordering on spiritual about engaging with nature, that humans are part of the same story as the birds and the trees, the air and the water. But Macdonald is also a very modern thinker. She’s fun and engaging, curious and happy to talk. That’s why I felt like getting to know her, how she works and what makes her tick might be a little more interesting than a simple round of author craft talk.
Below, our conversation in its entirety, including some questions from our readers. Enjoy.
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