Books I read this week: mid June through mid July

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted about books. Since we were on vacation I didn’t have as much chance to read- which is probably backward to most people. But I did get some reading done.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham was so fascinating. Markham grew up in Africa with a horse breeding father who didn’t pay a ton of attention to her, and so she had a lot of latitude to run around the savannah , go hunting, and otherwise put herself in dangerous situations. She grew up to raise horses, became a pilot who tracked elephant herds for big game hunters, and eventually was the first person to fly solo across the Altantic from East to West. Her writing is gorgeous- even Hemingway said that she was better than any writer he knew. Some of her stories are insane- she was attacked by a lion twice in her life, almost trampled by an elephant, it’s a crazy, awesome life.

“Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”

It is no good telling yourself that one day you will wish you had never made that change; it is no good anticipating regrets. Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday.

Peering down from the cockpit at grazing elephant, you have the feeling that what you are beholding is wonderful, but not authentic. It is not only incongruous in the sense that animals simply are not as big as trees, but also in the sense that the twentieth century, tidy and svelte with stainless steel as it is, would not possibly permit such prehistoric monsters to wander in its garden.

Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman is SO good. It’s a collection of short stories about real women who, as the title suggests, were close to fame but were overshadowed by the famous person near them, or they just weren’t as well known. There’s a story about conjoined twins, members of the first racially integrated women’s swing band, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Beryl Markham (from above), and others. The writing is lovely, and I finished reading with a list of women I want to know more about. I highly recommend this one.

Now, reading her letters, I knew more about the woman I thought I loved. Or maybe I knew less. Maybe what I knew was that there was more mystery and hurt than I could have imagined. Maybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women. Maybe there wasn’t a worthy place for the female hero to live out her golden years, to be celebrated as the men had been celebrated, to take from that celebration what she needed to survive.

Murder at the Breakers (A Gilded Newport Mystery) by Alyssa Maxwell is a twisty little mystery that takes place in a mansion in Newport, RI in the early 1900s. I happen to have a soft spot for mysteries set in a specific, evocative location and historical setting (surprise, surprise) and this one has great characters and some nice twists and turns. The main character is a poorer cousin of the Vanderbilts, and there’s a lot of excellent historical detail. Her brother is accused of a murder that happens at a grand coming out party, and she investigates the crime, all the while negotiating the ins and outs of society.

My parents were who they were, and no amount of wishing would change them. Did I even want to change them, need them to change? Even now I couldn’t answer that question.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is so good. When I read the blurb I bought it immediately:

Featuring mermaids, swarms of horseshoe crabs, deadly floods, and the silent secrets of an ancient tarot deck, The Book of Speculation is split like a savory peach between the odd ventures of a traveling carnival in the late 1700s and the modern-day discovery by librarian Simon Watson of an old, handwritten volume containing his grandmother’s name.

It’s a book heavy on magical realism, full of people who can disappear, others who can hold their breaths for ten minutes under water, those who can see the future in cards, and more. Simon is a librarian living in a home on the coast that is slowly disintegrating away. His sister, his only family still alive, has run away with the circus, but the circus runs in his family. When he receives an odd, ancient book in the mail, he discovers that there is a tradition of early death that runs through the women in his family and that his sister may be at risk. It’s an excellent story and I really enjoyed it.

“I know you want to think it’s something more, but maybe it’s just that we’re sad. Maybe Mom was unbearably sad. It doesn’t have to be more than that. Being that sad is enough.”

I’m trying to decide what to read next, I may start on The Goldfinch, which is our bookclub book and is forever long.

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