Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead (Alfred A. Knopf, 589 pages)
Sometimes, even if you are looking forward to it, a hefty book can seem overwhelming. It’s going to be such an effort to get through this, you think to yourself. But that’s not the case with this well-written, inventive book. Instead of feeling like work, reading this story propels your imagination forward making it one of those books that’s so darn difficult to put down. This one is a joy from beginning to end.
The book begins with twin infants, Marian and James, who are rescued from a sinking cruise ship in the early 1900s. Their mother is presumed drowned. Their father is the eventually disgraced captain of the ship who chose to protect the babies’ lives by accompanying them on a lifeboat, thereby abandoning the ship and crew. He goes to jail for dereliction of duty and the children are sent to be raised by a distant and detached uncle. James shines with his artistic and compassionate traits, while Marian, who is fearless, becomes infatuated with adventure and “flying machines” which she sees as a method of obtaining freedom. She decides she wants to be a pilot who will circle the globe someday, achieving the “great circle” that will connect everything, including the seemingly isolated events in her life.
After struggling to assert herself and to be heard in a male-dominated world, Marian does become a legendary pilot, fulfilling her life’s dream. She is seen as a leader, a role model and an inspirational teacher to other women.
Though her plane crashes and Marian loses her life, her lessons and joy at following adventure live on to impact future generations of women looking for the courage and bravery to persist in their own dreams. Marian is the Thelma and Louise of her generation, living life and dying on her own terms.
Meanwhile in the 21st century Hadley Baxter is an actress playing the role of Marian Graves in a biographical movie. Hadley is also an orphan and like Marian was also sent to live with her emotionally detached uncle. She has lost her way in life, a little too much drug use, a little too much freedom as a child, and a little too much abuse by the male-dominated Hollywood community. As a child, she read a book about Marian and was grabbed by her life, her fearless adventures and her courage.
Of course she agreed to play the role when asked. In recreating Marian’s life story on screen Baxter borrows from her lessons and learns to fight back against many of the patriarchal and societal restrictions on women in the film industry.
In the end, Hadley uses Marian’s courage and conviction to overcome frustration and emotional blocks in her own life. So yes, in its truest sense, this is a story about girl power done right. Marian’s message to Hadley, heard loud and clear over the years, is one of empowerment. You are brave for even trying. Forget what they say and go for it.
“Her very favorites, though, are the accounts of the far north and the far south, where ships’ rigging sags heavy with frost and blue icebergs drift freely, arched and spired like frozen cathedrals…. Bravery at the poles seems appealingly simple. If you go there, or try to, you are brave.”
One of the things that make this book so delightful to read is the amount of research that went into each chapter. The exquisite detail makes this historical fiction seem as real as any event you’ve heard about. You want to know more about the characters, the connections, and what’s going to happen next. It’s got adventure, lovers, bootleggers, hunters, bush pilots and artists. Shipstead takes us to Prohibition Montana, Alaska, Seattle, wartime London, wartime Alaska, a German POW camp, the South Pacific and finally an around-the-world flight. Even though the book takes us on so many separate journeys, they all work together and are eventually connected, like points on a circle.
It’s not easy for an author to jump between one storyline and another, and it’s even more difficult to connect those storylines when they happen almost a century apart, but Shipstead manages to do this with literary style. Even when they make poor decisions, you cheer for the main characters to continue. The enthusiasm and personal empowerment in each timeline is addictive. You end up caring about the women and their lives and you begin to connect the dots — it turns out it’s all related. Even though we may feel separated, we are all in this together. Women’s struggles over the ages have more in common than we might think.
Great Circle is a lovely, fascinating and inspiring, fast-paced read, perfect for the beach or just as a book that will keep you entertained and intrigued until its last page. Very highly recommended. A
If there’s a graduate in your life, they are hoping you will send them a gift. You can be lazy and just send money, or be classy and send them money in a book. But you can do better than Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.
For starters, consider How to Change, the Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Katy Milkman (Portfolio, 272 pages). She’s a behavioral scientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who promises evidence-based strategies for success.
More challenging but equally on point: Becoming a Data Head by Alex J. Gutman and Jordan Goldmeier (Wiley, 272 pages). This new book promises to teach us how to “think, speak and understand data science, statistics and machine learning.”
In Making College Pay (Currency, 176 pages), economist Beth Akers argues that a college education is still worth the money, if done smartly. She offers some controversial advice, saying that your major matters more than your school, and that it might be smart to finance your education even if you can afford to pay as you go.
For high school graduates, consider 175+ Things to Do Before You Graduate College(Adams Media, 240 pages) by Charlotte Lake. A little silly in places (one “bucket list” suggestion is to spend a day pretending you go to a different school), some of the suggestions are a nice antidote to collegiate stress.
It’s a little edgy for high school grads, but college graduates might enjoyYear Book (Crown, 272 pages), a collection of biographical essays about comedian Seth Rogen’s early life and career.
Then, of course, there’s the perennial favorite The Naked Roommate (and 107 other issues you might run into in college) by Harlan Cohen (Sourcebooks, 560 pages). Now in its seventh edition, the book and its derivatives (e.g., The Naked Roommate, For Parents Only) could probably pay Cohen’s bills for the rest of his life, but he also published a new one this year: Win or Learn: The Naked Truth About Turning Your Every Rejection into Your Ultimate Success (Simple Truths, 152 pages). — Jennifer Graham
• CAROL DANA Penobscot Language Keeper and poet presents. Part of the Center for the Arts Lake Sunapee Region Literary Arts Series. Virtual, via Zoom. Tues., June 15, 5 p.m. Visit centerfortheartsnh.org/literary-arts-series.
• LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, QUIARA ALEGRIA HUDES AND JEREMY MCCARTER Authors present the launch of their new book, In the Heights: Finding Home. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Virtual, via Zoom. Tues., June 15, 8 p.m. Registration and tickets required. Tickets cost $40 to $44. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.
• STACEY ABRAMS Author presents Our Time is Now. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Virtual, via Zoom. Tues., June 22, 7 p.m. Registration and tickets required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.
• PAUL DOIRON Author presents Dead by Dawn. The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth. Thurs., July 1, 6 p.m. Tickets cost $60 to $180 per table. Visit themusichall.org or call 436-2400.
Call for submissions
• NH LITERARY AWARDS The New Hampshire Writers’ Project seeks submissions for its Biennial New Hampshire Literary Awards, which recognize published works written about New Hampshire and works written by New Hampshire natives or residents. Books must have been published between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2020 and may be nominated in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s picture books, middle grade/young adult books. All entries will be read and evaluated by a panel of judges assembled by the NHWP. Submission deadline is Mon., June 21, 5 p.m. Visit nhwritersproject.org/new-hampshire-literary-awards.
• BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.
• GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.
• TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.
• GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit goffstownlibrary.com
• BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email email@example.com.
• NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit nashualibrary.org.
Featured photo: Great Circle