Good Minds Suggest: Paula McLain's Favorite Books About Flight

Posted by Goodreads on August 3, 2015

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Paula McLain's Jazz Age historical novel, The Paris Wife, hooked readers with its revealing account of Hadley Richardson's turbulent love affair with Ernest Hemingway and was a runaway bestseller that won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction in 2011. Her eagerly awaited next novel has finally arrived: Circling the Sun delves into the life of another fascinating woman, the daring and groundbreaking Beryl Markham, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west, in 1936. McLain focuses on Markham's life in Kenya in the 1920s, including her romantic liaison with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, who is better known as Karen Blixen's lover, the man Robert Redford immortalized in Out of Africa.

Despite her love for the high-flying Markham, McLain tells Goodreads, "I'm a terrible air passenger. Bouts of turbulence make me green in the gills, and even brief, regional up-and-down flights have me longing for home and my very stationary desk chair...but when I started to work on a novel about record-breaking aviator Beryl Markham, I began reading and writing about flight, and to my great surprise, loving it. In my imagination, I donned a flight suit and crossed an ocean in one hop—fearlessly—and swooped low over an African savannah thick with elephants. All this probably won't qualify me for a pilot's license, but in my gobbling of books on flying for research, I've discovered that somehow no other writing so wonderfully captures the essence of pure boundless freedom. Here are a few of my favorite books about flying."

West with the Night by Beryl Markham
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"In September of 1936, the British-born aviator and adventurer became the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo from east to west, 'the hard way.' She was also a bush pilot, helping safari hunters spot big game from the air (a practice she pioneered), and one of the first women to earn her commercial pilot's license. In stylish and vivid prose, Markham recounts these feats and many others, and describes her childhood—spent in harshly beautiful colonial Kenya—with rich and unforgettable strokes. Markham was a woman light-years ahead of her time, and this book deserves to be a classic."

I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn (Goodreads Author)
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"A contemporary of Beryl Markham's, Amelia Earhart has long fascinated the world—even before her mysterious disappearance at sea in 1937. Mendelsohn capitalizes on that fascination best through a lyrical evocation of Earhart's consciousness. In vignettes that shift between first person and third, fact and fiction, Mendelsohn imagines for us what happens to Earhart and her copilot, Fred Noonan, after they crash-land on an island in the South Sea, while weaving in key details of Earhart's life as America's sweetheart. The novel moves like a dream and bears us gorgeously along...poetic, mesmerizing, and altogether brilliant."

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
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"Who else but David McCullough could tackle this tale so masterfully? From Orville and Wilbur's bicycle-shop running days in Dayton, Ohio, when they taught themselves flight theory by corresponding with the Smithsonian, to that revolutionary moment at Kitty Hawk and beyond, McCullough unpacks for us the how and why of one of mankind's most stunning accomplishments, and humanizes these innovators in the process. Vivid and artful, with stunning language and gripping detail—this is one of the best biographies I've ever read. Absolutely fascinating!"

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
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"In 1919, Alcock and Brown, two British aviators, accomplished the first transatlantic flight, from New Foundland to England. McCann imagines their gripping water-jump—as well as two other historical transatlantic crossings with their own time periods, plot lines, and casts of characters—in language that's energetic and luminous, and so precise, it crackles. The entire novel works beautifully, but it's McCann's inspired portraiture of Alcock and Brown in their modified WWI Vickers Vimy that I find myself returning to again and again."

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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"Best known for The Little Prince, which he wrote just a year before he disappeared over the Mediterranean, Saint-Exe, as he preferred to be called, was a brilliant memoirist and uncommon adventurer. In describing his daring passes over the Andes and Sahara as a mail courier, the French aviator invites us into the cockpit and—even more exhilaratingly—into his wonderfully philosophical mind. Winner of the National Book Award and designated by National Geographic as one of the Top Ten Adventure Books of All Time, Wind, Sand and Stars perfectly captures the beauty and terror, loneliness and transcendence of a life lived in the sky."

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Aviation, Aerospace, and Flight

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Gene (new)

Gene Just ordered this book. I've read (twice)Paula Mclain's THE PARIS WIFE. Extraordinary.
She is a gifted writer.
I have also read (twice) Beryl Markham's WEST WITH THE NIGHT, a memorable read. Markham is the subject of Mclain's CIRCLING THE SUN. I am really looking forward to it!

message 2: by Dot (new)

Dot One Summer: America, 1927 By Bill Bryson has a wonderful chapter on the beginning of aviation and Lindbergh's famous flight.

message 3: by Linda (new)

Linda Another great Wright Brothers book is Conditions are Favourable by Tara Staley. It is a novel about the brothers and their personalities which led to their successful first flight on the Outer Banks

message 4: by Charlie (new)

Charlie Hepker "West with the Night". A great read and eye opener on Adventure!!

message 5: by Leonora (new)

Leonora Anderson I read West of the Night years ago.It is one of my favorite books of all time.

message 6: by Ronald (new)

Ronald I read "Wind, Sand and Stars" when I was in high school taking flying lessons as Felt's field in Spokane, Washington. I remember I would save my money to pay for each lesson that cost then about twenty dollars and hour in an old Aeronca with tandem seating.

I recommend Flight to Arras

message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert Limb What? No Saint-Exupéry???? Ahh!!!!

message 8: by Julia (new)

Julia Laflin I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of Circling the Sun last month. I can recommend it.

message 9: by Lucy (new)

Lucy yeah I have stared writing a book about history on my life and looking good

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