My Copy: 9781590171332 (image from goodreads.com)
Ordinarily, I don’t think I’d ever consider a book like this for my shelf. For a non-fiction book, one probably best described as a nature memoir, I am amazed at how it’s written. I’d never heard of it until Werner Herzog mentioned it in his Masterclass. Herzog insists that anybody who wants to be a filmmaker should read this book.
Well, now I can see why. It’s not the subject matter, exactly, but the attention to detail, the style, the language. There’s so much to work with that you can see what the author is talking about.
In simplest terms, The Peregrine is about a man’s observations of Peregrine Falcon behavior in England one fall to spring season. It sounds on the surface like that might be dry, a great subject for a scientific paper. However, Mr. Baker’s approach to writing is beyond scholarship; it has too much emotion for that.
The Peregrine is poetry. The command of language is fabulous, and the descriptions are so different from any other comparisons. I had my trusty pen in hand to highlight phrasings or descriptions that were totally unique in my hearing, and there are many. The attention to detail is fantastic, and worth reading solely on that basis.
The first part is basic description of the peregrines and how they work. Some terminology, such as animal species, need some explanation. Thankfully, the introduction gives some basic descriptions of the birds that the Peregrines tend to prey on, and other animals that readers in the States might not be so familiar with.
The second part and onward go into more details of Mr. Baker’s observations. Dates are written to differentiate sections, as if this is a nature diary he’s quoting from for this book. He’s a part of the story, but it’s more about where he was when he observed the behavior of wildlife in the area (and of course, the peregrines). The sentences flow in some places and are quite clipped in others, matching the actions being described in a refreshing way. The way he describes the killings are also matter of fact…and as time goes on, it may feel a bit strange (but you’ll get why).
What really makes this work fascinating is how much of himself Mr. Baker puts into the book. At first, it’s like he’s recounting path’s he’s traveled as fast as he can just to give the reader a sense of place and what’s happening there. Then, as time goes on, he gets more focused on the peregrines themselves. Startlingly, there are times when Mr. Baker’s “I” becomes “we.” On one particular day, he’s standing over a kill made by a peregrine, and actually notes how he’s feeling the way the peregrine must’ve felt doing what he was doing. As time goes on, this “we” becomes more pronounced.
I think The Peregrine is useful for anyone trying to emulate descriptive writing practices and non-fiction writing. Nature lovers can get a lot out of this book with its setup. I can see why those who must learn to focus on great detail and visual elements, for work or play, ought to take a look at this book. I’m not an avid nature-reader, but even I got absorbed into the observations this book made me privy to.
I think that’s perhaps the best part of it–you felt like you could be walking along with the writer any day that fall or spring and get what you were seeing. Worth a look if you want to see an interesting use of the English language (and some proof that not all non-fiction books about nature have to be boring!)