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Caro, Andrew Solomon, Ben Fountain Win Critics Awards

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William Deresiewicz
Author William Deresiewicz, author of "A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things That Really Matter." He is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle's 2012 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Source: Penguin Group via Bloomberg

March 2 (Bloomberg) -- The National Book Critics Circle gave its award for general nonfiction to Andrew Solomon for “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” (Scribner).

The book is based on 10 years spent interviewing hundreds of parents who have children very different from themselves.

Ben Fountain won the fiction award for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Ecco), a novel about U.S. soldiers being feted at a Dallas Cowboys game after a victorious battle in Iraq. The Bloomberg review called it “a broadly entertaining satire that takes aim at celebrity, sports, Hollywood, corporations, the media and more.”

“You don’t get many strokes in this business,” Fountain said in accepting the award at a ceremony in New York Thursday night. “So I really appreciate this one.”

Solomon and Fountain were the only ones among the book-award winners present, prompting Solomon to joke: “It’s obviously unfashionable actually to show up for your own award, so I hope you won’t think less of me for doing so.”

Leanne Shapton, who won in the autobiography category for “Swimming Studies” (Blue Rider Press), “has left the pool and has entered motherhood as of about three days ago,” said her publisher, David Rosenthal, explaining the author’s absence.

Shapton’s book is a kind of meditation on swimming’s competitive and recreational sides from a writer who once trained for the Olympic trials.

Robert Caro

The award for biography went to “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” (Knopf), the fourth volume of Robert A. Caro’s acclaimed life of Lyndon Johnson. Two of the earlier volumes also won the award.

D.A. Powell won in the poetry category for “Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys” (Graywolf). It was third time lucky for Powell, a professor at the University of San Francisco, who was a finalist for the NBCC poetry prize in 2004 for “Cocktails” and in 2009 for “Chronic.”

Marina Warner won in criticism for “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights” (Belknap/Harvard). A professor at the University of Essex in England, Warner was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List for Services to Literature in 2008.

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award went to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The NBCC, in announcing the award in January, noted their “pioneering work in feminist thought, which revolutionized criticism.” They are the authors of “The Madwoman in the Attic” and the editors of “The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women,” among many other works.

No Ironing

In separate videotaped acceptance speeches, the two scholars noted that they had met in an elevator in the early 1970s at Indiana University and went on to sustain a 40-year collaboration.

Gilbert noted with comic understatement that even when feminism had gained a foothold in academia, “many of our male colleagues weren’t always altogether positive.”

Gubar fulfilled a promise made to colleagues and friends after she received word of the award and confessed that she had never done “ironing or vacuum cleaning.”

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to William Deresiewicz, the author of “A Jane Austen Education,” a contributing writer for the Nation and a contributing editor for the New Republic and the American Scholar. The award for the first time came with $1,000.

Deresiewicz joked: “Since I’m a freelancer, I’ll expect the check in three to six months.”

The National Book Critics Circle is an organization of almost 600 book reviewers and editors. Founded in 1974, the group gave out its first awards the following year.

Nominees and winners are chosen by the group’s 24-member board of directors, which includes Bloomberg book editor Laurie Muchnick, staffers from the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, and a number of freelance critics.

Muse highlights include Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on movies, Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on this story: Jeffrey Burke in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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