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Book News: Falconer's Memoir Pulls Down Britain's Top Nonfiction Honor

It was Helen Macdonald's relationship with a goshawk like this one that helped her to grapple with the loss of her father.<em></em>
It was Helen Macdonald's relationship with a goshawk like this one that helped her to grapple with the loss of her father.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

For the first time in the prestigious award's 16-year history, the Samuel Johnson Prize has gone to a memoir. Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk, an account of how falconry helped Macdonald grieve for her father's death, beat out a slew of histories and biographies to earn this year's honor. Historian Claire Tomalin presented the award to Macdonald at a ceremony Tuesday night in London.

Tomalin, who chaired the judging panel, congratulated Macdonald for having "written a book unlike any other, about an obsession with a wild creature, brought to life in prose sometimes technical and always striking, and set in English landscapes observed with a visionary eye."

Macdonald, for her part, told Reuters that the win was an "astonishing emotional experience." And she offered something of a falconer's metaphor for her joy in hearing readers' responses: "One of the things I really like about this process of writing is once you've finished, once you've released the book into the world, then the people make it their own."

The selection, which packs a purse of about $32,000, may have been unprecedented, but it wasn't entirely a surprise. Bookmakers called the pick early, and The Bookseller reports that some are predicting the memoir could go on to become "the strongest selling Samuel Johnson Prize winner so far."

Head to the prize's website to read an excerpt.

Lena Dunham Responds: Several days deep into a controversy surrounding her book Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham shifted from Twitter to Time magazine to respond to allegations that she sexually abused her younger sister when they were children. The accusations center on a scene depicted in one of that book's essays.

In her official statement, Dunham says, "Childhood sexual abuse is a life-shattering event for so many, and I have been vocal about the rights of survivors. If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention."

Read the statement in full at Time.

Quoth The Raven, 'Debtor More': Staring down the bleak, twisted fate promised by your student debt or mortgage? Well, at least take heart that Edgar Allan Poe — that unparalleled craftsman of bleak, twisted fates — once faced a nasty situation himself. At Slate, Rebecca Onion dredges the impressive list of Poe's debts, which were filed with his bankruptcy petition in the early 1840s.

He Can Call Me Al: Simon & Schuster has announced its plans to publish an authorized biography of Paul Simon. The prolific musician will cooperate with music critic Robert Hillburn, trusting the author to tell his story rather than writing his own a memoir. In a statement released to the press, Simon said, "I'd rather devote my time to making music, which continues to hold my full attention. I'm confident Robert Hillburn will write an insightful book." As of this writing, the biography has no title and no set publication date.

Perks Of Winning The Nobel: The announcement of this year's Nobel laureate, Patrick Modiano, elicited something of a wrinkled brow from English-speaking audiences, mainly because there were so few ways to find his work in English. It's a wonder what a little Nobel can do: The past several weeks have brought a wave of movement on Modiano's books, beginning with Yale University Press, which will publish three of his novellas on Nov. 11. The announcement was followed by news that MacLehose Press acquired rights to three of his full-length novels, and now Andersen Press has reportedly acquired a children's book written by Modiano, as well.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.

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