Book reviews: Two great reads to close out summer |

Book reviews: Two great reads to close out summer

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain
Courtesy photo

“Circling the Sun”

by Paula McLain

Following on the heels of her bestselling novel, “The Paris Wife,” Paula McLain has written another masterful piece of historical fiction, tantalizing readers with an epic African story that spans the early life of aviator Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo, east-to-west, across the Atlantic.

In “Circling the Sun,” McLain transports us to colonial Kenya during the Roaring 20s and casts us deep into Markham’s spirited independence, her unusual escapades and the joys and pitfalls of finding great love. It is an intimate survival story that takes readers from a young girl’s sustenance on a wild African landscape to overcoming the trials of being an independent career-minded woman who was ahead of her time while managing tribulations in matters of the heart.

Every minute of “Circling the Sun” is irresistible, from Markham’s wild-child adventures with the native Kipsigis tribe to the onset of a steamy love triangle which promises to jangle your romantic memories of the classic memoir “Out of Africa.” McLain captures the opulence of an expat colonial community, the curiosities of highbrow horse racing on the African savannah and the fierce heart of one of the 20th century’s most remarkable women. Markham led a captivating life, and McLain has wound an utterly enchanting tale around the historical details.

McLain, a past Literary Sojourn author, returns to Steamboat Springs to talk about “Circling the Sun” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Library Hall. This free event is part of the library’s ongoing Library Author Series.

“Big Magic”

by Elizabeth Gilbert

While Banksy, the infamous street artist, debuts his newest sprawling creation, “Dismaland,” in the U.K. this weekend, author Elizabeth Gilbert would likely find it apropos to alert you to one particular sign in his installation: “It’s not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster.”

Gilbert’s optimistic outlook on the world generally falls on the polar opposite spectrum of Banksy’s cynicism, but after reading her forthcoming book, “Big Magic,” I would venture to guess these two artists are in definite agreement when it comes to “creative living beyond fear.”

That’s the tag-line for Gilbert’s newest writing endeavor — a book I’d hate to summarily lump in with the self-help genre, although many blossoming (and accomplished) artists, writers and idea makers will gratefully accept her wise words as such. Gilbert is infinitely quotable, but this isn’t a step-by-step Bible for how to change your life. Anyone living with some manifestation of writer’s block (or any other artistic variant of such affliction) will find her sage advice is effectively a worthwhile kick in the butt.

Gilbert is an optimist, full of ideas and inspiration, a cheerleader for why it’s okay to skip the M.F.A. and embark on artistic discovery. She acknowledges the courage a creative life requires, the practicalities of continuing to nourish a creative spark and the persistence (and maybe a bit of luck) that ultimately launches new creative work upon the world. Without the smallest hint of narcissism, the mega-bestselling author who has repeatedly jumped genres — from memoir to journalism to fiction — shares the pinnacles and pitfalls of failure and success and how to wrangle the criticism, inside and out.

Jennie Lay is the adult programs coordinator at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. These books are available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.

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