H is for Hawk won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. I usually enjoy the book that wins that, so I thought I’d have a look. What’s it about, I asked? Well, it’s about someone training a hawk. Well, ok, I thought, not something I’m fascinated by, but I’ll give it a go.
Except it’s not just about that. There is a hawk to be trained, and the story of that is wonderful and fascinating and gripping and moving. But it’s also about T H White, the author of the Sword in The Stone, and his hawk training, and his life, and it’s about the author’s father and the author dealing with grief, and a childhood spent fascinated by hawks, and the books the author read, and it’s all so beautifully, achingly beautifully written.
The point I’m making is, it doesn’t just fit into one category. You could shelve this in the animal care area of the bookshop, and that’d be fair enough. You could also shelve it in biography. You could shelve it in literature. It could go in several different places.
I’ve found Nella Last’s diaries of World War II England in history, war, biography and social sciences, and that’s not the only book I’ve read that floats from category to category.
The point is, a book doesn’t have to be just one thing. It doesn’t have to be just a crime novel, it can be funny too. It doesn’t have to be fit neatly into a category ( although that does make life more difficult for people who work in bookshops and libraries. I do feel your pain). It can cross all the boundaries, and all the guidelines and produce something wonderful.
You don’t have to say ‘my book is this and nothing else’. You can mix it up and change it around and shoot off into odd little corners and start chatting about something else altogether. I love those kinds of books. It’s those kind of books that make me feel like I’m chatting to the author.