Looking for a little adventure on the subway? This week’s reads (and a podcast) center on the famous adventurers and mysterious disappearances of the 1920s and 1930s that were the major media scandals of their day. When you’re tired from all that excitement, check in with NPR’s take on a contemporary scandal about working women.
On Your Kindle
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann
Grann’s book focuses on the doomed expedition of British adventurer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon in the 1920s. Fawcett was a celebrity in his time (and may have been the inspiration for a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World). Dozens of other explorers sought to rescue Fawcett and his team in what has been called “the Green Hell” of the dense Amazonian jungles—filled with snakes, piranhas, disease-carrying insects, and hostile Indian tribes—only to vanish themselves. Grann surmises that as many as 100 people may have been lost looking for Fawcett.
What was Fawcett searching for in the first place? The mythical origins of “El Dorado,” a place he referred to as “The Lost City of Z.”
On Your Smartphone
“What Do We Lose and Gain When Reducing Life to a Recipe?” by Maria Goody
NPR columnist Maria Goody, writing in the food column The Salt, discusses the recent controversy over the New York Times obituary of female rocket scientist Yvonne Brill. Many were critical of the Times for opening the piece with a line about Brill’s cooking and motherhood rather than her noteworthy career accomplishments. Here, Goody steps in with a food writer’s perspective to muse on what our food says about us and what role it might play in the final summation of our lives.
On a Podcast
“The Mysterious Disappearance of Agatha Christie,” Stuff You Missed in History Class
Last Wednesday, I tuned into one of my favorite podcasts, “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and heard this episode about detective novelist Agatha Christie. Did you know that Christie infamously disappeared for 11 days in 1926? Her disappearance drew all kinds of media attention and public scrutiny, and it was even rumored that Christie’s unfaithful and often estranged husband might have had something to do with her fate. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became involved, taking one of Christie’s possessions to a spiritualist in an attempt to “divine” a solution to the mystery. Where was Christie found? Listen to find out!
West With the Night, by Beryl Markham
I picked up a battered old copy of Markham’s memoir, vaguely aware that the author was a famous female aviator of the 1930s and the acquaintance of Ernest Hemingway and Karen Blixen. What I discovered was a stunningly beautiful story of a woman ahead of her time. A child of British colonists, the tomboyish and adventurous Markham was raised in East Africa and flouted the social rules of colonial society by becoming a bush pilot and horse trainer rather than a debutante.
In characteristically beautiful prose, she opens the story of flying oxygen to a dying miner with these lines:
How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.' But there are a hundred places to start for there are a hundred names—Mwanza, Serengetti, Nungwe, Molo, Nakuru. There are easily a hundred names, and I can begin best by choosing one of them—not because it is first nor of any importance in a wildly adventurous sense, but because here it happens to be, turned uppermost in my logbook. After all, I am no weaver. Weavers create. This is remembrance—revisitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart."