Vesper Flights: A reminder that ‘nature writing’ is for everyone

Helen Macdonald imbues her work with an infectious childlike wonder about the natural world

Helen Macdonald has a good turn of phrase. Photograph: Bill Johnston

Helen Macdonald has a good turn of phrase. Photograph: Bill Johnston

A few weeks ago I saw a pair of swifts in the local park, sweeping around in dizzying arcs, swooping towards the ground but never touching, never stopping. I confidently told my children that swifts never land, then quickly googled on my phone to check I was right. If I’d read Vesper Flights I would have known for sure, and could have added that swifts can even sleep and mate on the wing. (I might have left out the mating.)

This is not the follow-up to Helen Macdonald’s breakthrough book, H Is for Hawk – that will be “a big book about albatrosses and the end of the world”, which is still in progress – and in that sense it may disappoint some of her readers. But it needn’t: in fact, as a selection of Macdonald’s journalism and essays (many from her regular homes in the New York Times magazine and New Statesman, others from elsewhere and new), it provides a series of short blasts of insightful, invigorating nature writing.

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