Beryl Markham’s West with the Night is a true classic, a book that deserves the same acclaim and readership as the work of her contemporaries Ernest Hemingway, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Isak Dinesen.
If the first responsibility of a memoirist is to lead a life worth writing about, Markham succeeded beyond all measure. Born Beryl Clutterbuck in the middle of England, she and her father moved to Kenya when she was a girl, and she grew up with a zebra for a pet; horses for friends; baboons, lions, and gazelles for neighbors. She made money by scouting elephants from a tiny plane. And she would spend most of the rest of her life in East Africa as an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an aviatrix―she became the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. Hers was indisputably a life full of adventure and beauty.
And then there is the writing. When Hemingway read Markham’s book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: “She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book.”
I decided I wanted to read her memoir after I read Megan Mayhew Bergman’s short story about her in Almost Famous Women called “A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down For Lunch.” If you haven’t read that collection, by the way, please do so, it’s awesome!
In other news, I thought I’d take stock of my 20 Books of Summer experience so far. I’ve read fifteen of the twenty so far – YAY! It’s a new personal record for the three summers I’ve attempted this challenge. I consider it a total success at this point, even if I don’t read any others. I’m in the middle of George Saunders’s short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and I definitely will read my July Book Group book (we meet week after next to discuss, and I like to wait as close as possible to the discussion to read the book so it’s nice and fresh in my mind.) It’s The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, a graphic memoir about the author’s experience escaping Vietnam in the 1970s and trying to adapt to their new life in America. So that is at least 17/20.
I’ve only reviewed nine of the 15 I’ve read, so I’m quite a bit behind. I just can’t seem to make myself sit down and do these reviews in a timely fashion. I’m not sure what’s up with that. And the longer they go, the less I want to do it. I see some more five-sentence reviews in my near future! But I will do a full post on Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin because it was BRILLIANT and also a Classics Club pick -which is also true for Shirley Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest (good but not brilliant.)
How are you doing with 20 Books of Summer? If you’re a member of The Classics Club are you happy with your book number 9? Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned above?