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Posts Tagged ‘West With the Night’

Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities.  An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942)  – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012)  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement.  Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

Today’s post features Meg Lukens Noonan, the author of The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, and Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 CoatWhile we have not yet read her book, we agree with her desire to meet/drink with Beryl Markham.

In brief — The Coat Route looks at the question – “In today’s world of fast fashion, is there a place for a handcrafted $50,000 coat?”. To answer it, Ms. Noonan traces a luxury coat from conception to delivery, looking at all its components and the places they come from.
Ms. Noonan has been a freelance writer for twenty-five years, specializing in adventure, active and luxury travel. Credits include Outside, The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Islands, Men’s Journal and National Geographic Adventure. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two daughters.
Ms. Noonan will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, August 28th.  This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended as seating is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com for more information or to save a seat.
1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
 The Panama Hat Trail: A Journey from South America by Tom Miller. I’ve always admired this book, which traces the making of a Panama hat all through Ecuador. It’s a good story, told with humor and filled with history and colorful characters. I swiped the idea of a sartorial travelogue from him.
 The Orchid Thief: A true story of beauty and obsession by Susan Orlean. Orlean is one of those magical, dogged non-fiction writers who can make a subject you didn’t have any interest in at all become the most fascinating thing in the world. She absolutely nails characters with just a few perfectly-chosen words. She’s also very good at knowing just how much of herself to put in the story. I studied that book to try understand how she did it.
 At Home: A short history of private life by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s voice is so distinctive and seems so effortless–it’s like he’s sitting in the room chatting with you. He’s also a brilliant researcher, who packs every paragraph with astonishing, meaningful facts. There are no throw-away sentences. I love all his books, but Home is the one I kept referring to when I was working on The Coat Route. I was trying to figure out how to write about things that were inherently boring–like buttons–and how to present history and information without being really tedious.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
Beryl Markham, author of West With the Night, her lyrical memoir about living in Kenya. She was fearless, beautiful, scandalous and a superb writer. I’m pretty sure she would want to skip the coffee shop and go straight to a bar to drink gin–and I would happily tag along.
3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
  
Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Dear Life by Alice Monro

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

Sarah Stewart Taylor

We are excited to welcome author Sarah Stewart Taylor and her first children’s novel – The Expeditioners.  This novel has garnered great advance press with an outstanding Kirkus review  – “Full of kid power, clues, codes and maps, this will appeal to sophisticated readers who appreciate their adventure served with heaping helpings of cleverness.” It also received an independent booksellers designation for recommended children’s books.

Ms. Taylor will launch her new adventure novel for readers aged eight and up – The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon – on Saturday, November 17 from 2-4 pm at The Norwich Bookstore. The event includes exciting activities and snacks for attendees.  While the book is geared for middle grade readers, all ages are welcome during this event.  And, this time, no reservations are required though you can call (802) 649-1114 to pre-order your signed copy of The Expeditioners.

Without further ado, Sarah’s answers to our three questions:

1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

 West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. The adventure! the romance! the writing! Every time I see it, that green cover sends me right back to the first time I read it, a 13-year-old in the suburbs, curled up with a book that transported her halfway around the world.

 

 

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. Because after West with the Night, I read The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley, and then Hemingway and Isak Dinesen, and Chinua Achebe made me ask necessary questions about those books that I loved.

 

Possession, by A.S. Byatt. I still remember the thrill of reading it the first time, my utter involvement with the parallel narratives. It was romance, adventure, mystery — all in one, and all about books!

 

2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Roald Dahl. I just think it would be fun. Although it would have been more fun to meet him when I was a child. I have the feeling he didn’t like adults much.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table? 

 Lemony Snicket’s new book – Who Could That Be At This Hour?, Howard’s End (which I re-read once a year, right about now), Hilary Mantel’s Bringing up the Bodies, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt, and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

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A friend of ours recently announced that his family is moving to South Africa as part of his new job as COO of  Grassroot Soccer - a Norwich based organization that uses soccer to promote HIV/AIDS education in Africa, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.  His mother-in-law asked us for great reads that would tell her more about the African countries where Grassroot Soccer (GRS) works. (We are guessing she is already planning a trip to see her grandchildren.)

We thought this offered The Book Jam a great opportunity to talk about exceptional books about Africa and to mention the important work of GRS.  Unfortunately, there is simply too much information for one post.  So we’ve split it into two.  Part Two will take a closer look at AIDS and its impact through the lens of literature, and have more information about the work of GRS.  It will post in May to coincide with the publication of John Irving’s new novel – In One Person - which while about a lot is at some level about the impact of AIDS on 1980s America.

Africa (orthographic projection).svg

Until then, Part One — sixteen books (the number is an homage to March Madness we suppose) we can recommend that deal with the African continent in some form or fashion.  The first four have our usual review length, the rest are a list for those of you looking for more titles.

Kenya: West with the Night (1942, 1983) by Beryl Markham. This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, rode, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century.  This book may start out in Kenya, telling of Markham’s first passion (horses) but it then lifts the reader up, up, away, and into Northern Africa as Markham prepares to fly to Britain, and then finally to set records crossing the Atlantic solo. A fantastic piece of literature. As Hemingway said of Markham, she “can write rings around the rest of us who consider ourselves writers…it really is a bloody wonderful book.” A GREAT read and a superb book club book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Kenya, Zimbabwe (and the former Rhodesia),and Zambia: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (2011) and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight  by Alexandra Fuller (2003). Alexandra Fuller is simply one of the best memoir writers around. The stories of her British/Scotch family’s life in Africa are so outlandish, funny, and tragic that they could only be true. But it takes a writer of tremendous talent to bring the damaged characters, the exotic landscape, and the complex, violent history of so many countries  so fully to life. “Cocktail Hour” is Fuller’s love letter to her heroic, larger than life mother who after living in, farming in, and losing so much in Africa for all of her adult life is still there, still loving the continent, and finishing out her final expatriate days on a thriving fish farm. “Don’t Let’s Go“, Fuller’s earlier book about growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s will take your breath away and make you marvel at the resilience and adventurous spirit of this very special family.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow for the 2003 book. Only Lisa Cadow has read the 2011 book

Rwanda: Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (2012) – For me, this author’s amazing gift is that she makes a book about a country torn apart from genocide somehow hopeful, without flinching from the awful truths contained in Rwanda and in the world’s lack of response to the horrors there.  My theory of how she manages this is that you care for her hero, Jean Patrick, the Tutsi boy who anchors this narrative and his dream to run in the Olympics. And you care for all the unique characters he encounters while maturing from boy to young man, especially his girlfriend Bea and his room mate Daniel.  The story effectively illustrates the strong ties of family and friendship, and the love that can overcome hatred even as all hell breaks loose – even if ultimately, that love can not save everyone.  Since it is the second of the two winners of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction that I have truly enjoyed, I vow to add the annual winners to my annual reading lists. ~ Lisa Christie

Kenya: Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley (1959, 2000) This is a classic in the genre of white women with African childhoods, right up there with West With the Night and Out of Africa. I had never heard of it (really!) – surprising given that I’m a huge fan of this kind of literature – and, even though it is told from the perspective of a very young Elspeth, it was a joy to come to this tale in my 40’s. Elspeth’s voice is clear, amusing, innocent, and yet also somehow wise. She tells of her family’s moving to a remote area of Kenya to grow coffee in 1912 when she was just 5 years old. There are stories of snakes, the travails of building shelter in such a foreign land, and of her family’s encounters with the Masai, the Kikuyus, plus the various European and British “tribes” (the Scots, the Dutch) that struggled to settle in this unforgiving and forever challenging environment  ~ Lisa Cadow

BRIEFLY, More Titles to Enjoy

Bostwana: Number One Ladies Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith. You will fall in love with Mma Ramatswe’s common sense approach to life and to solving mysteries in an everyday Botswana setting.  ~ Lisa Cadow

Kenya: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (1927) – Yes, Meryl Streep comes to mind, but this is a powerful piece of literature set in colonial Kenya even without an academy award-winning movie.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

NigeriaTiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (2011) and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (2010) – One, a coming of age novel that examines the complex political and economic problems of oil-rich Niger and another that (often humorously) explores the complexities of polygamy. Please refer to our October 11, 2011 blog for a more detailed review. ~ Lisa Cadow

South Africa: Books by Booker and Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer, including July’s People (1982) or The Pickup (2001). Insight into Apartheid and often erroneous expectations and misunderstandings among blacks and whites. ~ Lisa Christie

Malawi: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2012) -Two forms – one for kids and one for adults - of the remarkable story of William Kamkwamba, a boy from Malawi who dreamed of building a windmill to help his country. ~ Lisa Christie

Ethiopia: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Gorgeous gorgeous writing and a story that spans years and continents.  Truly memorable.

For teens

South Africa: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – A powerful (pun intended) tale of what one person can do in their own life to affect injustices. Last read years ago with young teens who loved it and the movie it inspired. ~ Lisa Christie

Two More for Kids

Malawi: Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (June 2012) – Clare is recovering (as much as one can) from her mother’s death when her father relocates them from Boston to Malawi. This kids’ book illustrates the power of friendship and cultural exchanges. ~ Lisa Christie

African continent: The Boy Who Biked the World: On the Road to Africa by Alastair Humphreys (2011) – The journal entries with drawings and “actual handwriting” in this are clever, and the moral that with hard work and enduring some tough situations you can reach your dreams is important.  ~ Lisa Christie

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LISTEN NOW to Books That Made Us Think in 2009 or download the jamcast  Books That Made Us Think in 2009 Podcast –Lisa and Lisa choose three books each that they read in 2009, not all were published in 2009, that made them think.

Our Choices are:

A masterpiece known to few.

Go ahead, think!

Lisa Cadow– West With the Night by Beryl Markham, Book of Ebenezer Le Page by GB Edwards, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Lisa Christie — Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, This Must Be The Place by Anna Winger and Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau

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