I had originally intended to compile a list of adventure stories, but seeing Beryl Markham’s West With the Night in the top spot promptly derailed the remainder of the list while I considered this remarkable person and her amazing adventure story. Bear with me while I share:
Born Beryl Clutterbuck, you can appreciate why she took and kept the surname of her first husband (she had three). Often credited with being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, she was, in 1936, the first woman to do so—Jim Mollison was the first person to fly that route in 1932. But Mollison took off from Dublin and landed in New Brunswick, which means Beryl was the first person to fly from England to North America, crash landing in Cape Breton when her fuel-tank vents froze. Her only injury was a jaunty gash on her forehead. It was a gloriously salient achievement because it was much more difficult to fly west against prevailing winds, requiring more fuel, time and stamina than the famous flight Charles Lindbergh made in 1923 from west to east across the Atlantic. Yay, Beryl.
Even so, why read her book about deciding to make that flight, preparing for it, doing it, and surviving the aftermath? Because, as Ernest Hemingway wrote to his own editor, the illustrious Maxwell Perkins:
Did you read Beryl Markham’s book…? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, 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 writers. I wish you would get it and read it because it really is a bloody wonderful book.
There’s more that’s interesting and laudable about Beryl herself, but my goal here is to prompt you to read West With the Night—it’s finest kind, and you’ve a great treat in store…
OK, I don’t want to gossip, but beautiful Beryl had an affair with a British royal and was paid by the throne to call it quits. It’s said, too, that Denys Finch Hatton and Beryl were an item as his long-time romance with Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa and ostensibly Beryl’s good friend) wound down. If you want to know more about Beryl—and why wouldn’t you?—avail yourself as quickly as possible of Mary S. Lovell’s exquisitely written but egregiously out of print 1987 biography, Straight On Till Morning.