What to Read While You Wait for The Aviator’s Wife

Book Cover for The Aviator's Wife by Melanie BenjaminThe lives of the rich and famous hold great fascination for us regular folks. Yes, I love to watch the movie stars on the red carpet and critique gowns and suits. When it comes to books, I sometimes take similar pleasure in learning about the lives of celebrities. However, I’m not looking for a gossipy tell-all or dishy memoir. (Real Housewife Brandi Glanville’s “Drinking and Tweeting” is not on my to-read list.) I lean toward fictional portraits of past greats – writers, artists, scientists – and the lives of people around them. Apparently I am not alone, as books like “The Aviator’s Wife” shoot up the bestseller lists. In this historical fiction, author Melanie Benjamin portrays Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of pilot Charles Lindbergh, who was also a talented pilot in her own right. Place a hold on this book, and then make your wait more enjoyable by picking up one of these other fictional works based on intriguing and extraordinary women in history.

Book cover for The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom ThumbAutobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb” by Melanie Benjamin (2011)
Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump, the nineteenth century little person and wife of Gen. Tom Thumb, tells her life story in this spirited fictionalized autobiography. Vinnie comes of age in the antebellum south before being invited to join the P. T. Barnum circus. This is an entertaining book, full of Americana and offering up plenty of behind-the-scenes looks at show business.

Book cover for Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor ArnoldGirl in a Blue Dress” by Gaynor Arnold (2008)
Subtitled, “A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens,” Arnold’s book begins with the widowed Dorthea reflecting on her marriage to and separation from author husband Alfred Gibson (read: Charles Dickens). “From very early on in our marriage it seemed as though I could possess only what the world had left behind—the cuffs and coattails of his existence.” Told in a series of flashbacks, her tale explores motherhood, marriage and the effects of celebrity in Victorian England.

Book cover for Loving Frank by Nancy HoranLoving Frank” by Nancy Horan (2007)
The Frank of the title is Frank Lloyd Wright, who in 1904 designs a house for Edwin and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, an upstanding young couple in Oakpark, Illinois. The public is scandalized when Wright and Mamah then leave their families to live together in Europe. There Mamah is exposed to feminist ideas about the confining role of women and marriage, and Frank eventually convinces her to return with him to the US to tragic end. Flawed characters, romance, and discussions of feminism and architecture make this a compelling read.

Book cover for Marrying Mozart by Stephanie CowellMarrying Mozart” by Stephanie Cowell (2004)
In this literary romance, the lives of the four Weber sisters are changed by the arrival of 21-year-old Wolfgang Mozart, a young man struggling to find his place in the eighteenth-century musical world. A richly textured portrayal of this passionate musician and the women who inspired his art and captured his heart.

Book cover for The Paris Wife by Paula McLainThe Paris Wife” by Paula McLain (2011)
Hadley Richardson meets the brash “beautiful boy” Ernest Hemingway in 1920s Chicago, and after a brief courtship, they marry and take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband’s career. Details of Jazz Age Paris and elbow-rubbing with cultural icons like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein make an entertaining backdrop, but the focus of this well-crafted tale is the sympathetic Hadley.

What are your favorite works of historical fiction based on the lives of famous (or infamous) people? Share with us in the comments!

About Lauren

Mama, book maven, geek. Now reading "Swimming Home" by Deborah Levy.
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One Response to What to Read While You Wait for The Aviator’s Wife

  1. Virnell Bruce says:

    I have spent ten years studying Anne Morrow Lindbergh and give classes and presentations on her life and accomplishments. I would not spend 10 minutes trying to better understand and appreciate the woman depicted in “The Aviator’s Wife.”

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a pioneering aviator, and was given the prestigious Hubbard Medal by National Geographic for her work with Charles in their flights charting routes for Pan Am in the 1930s. She spent nearly six months and traveled 30,000 miles in a single-engine aircraft flying in a big circle around the Atlantic; this was after their similar trip to the Orient. She wrote two best-selling books about these trips, and with her own abilities and craft became a noted author. (As of today, after more than 100 years, the Hubbard Medal has only been given out for 22 events and/or people.)

    Mrs. Lindbergh published 13 books in her lifetime. Gift From the Sea, first published in 1955, is still in print. Over many years, she also wrote numerous articles for various magazines. Perhaps the most revealing book is the one that came out last spring, a book of letters and diaries spanning 1946 to 1986, Against Wind and Tide. Reeve Lindbergh and other family members spent four years going through 40 years of writing, some of it the most personal and revealing writing of Mrs. Lindbergh. It’s a treasure for all her admirers, and especially for someone who has spent years learning about her.

    Ms. Benjamin treats the Lindberghs with disrespect when she writes that Charles laughed and clapped when Bruno Hauptmann was executed for the kidnapping of Charles, Jr. Charles was a different duck, for sure, but even that would be out of character. Ms. Benjamin described the Lindberghs and their employees through Anne’s thoughts when they were looking throughout the house for little Charlie the night of the kidnapping. She said, “. . . I had the strangest urge to laugh, for we resembled nothing more than characters in a Marx Brothers movie.” Again, in such a frantic time for such a sensitive and thoughtful person, I don’t think Mrs. Lindbergh would be anywhere near a laugh or even a smile, let alone a thought about the Marx Brothers.

    Ms. Benjamin treats some subjects in a laughable manner. She made it appear that the Lindberghs and Amelia Earhart had great disdain for each other; nothing could be further from the truth. If Ms. Benjamin had read the diaries and books of both Anne and Amelia, she would know that they admired and had great respect for each other. And why be flip and characterize it otherwise when the truth itself is so interesting. (There are literally dozens of inaccuracies in the book.)

    Ms. Benjamin was likewise sketchy and flip in occasionally dropping in the names of Robert Goddard and Alexis Carrel, people who were import to Charles and his story. She also mentions that Charles became the spokesman for America First and describes it as “ . . . that ragtag group of individuals. . . .” That “ragtag” group included Potter Stewart, Sargent Shriver and Gerald Ford; they were headed by former four-star General Robert Wood, then Chairman of the Board of Sears.

    But what about Rilke and Antoine de St. Exupery, people who were not only important to her but had a great influence on Anne? They were not mentioned. She loved poetry and would either memorize or read poetry for hours flying with Charles sitting in that back cockpit. This notion was not conveyed in the book either.

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a woman of substance — highly educated, incredibly literate and wonderfully expressive in her writing. In her author’s notes, Ms. Benjamin said that “the inner life can be explored only in novels, not histories — or even diaries or letters.” Mrs. Lindbergh’s letters and diaries are all about her inner life and they are cohesive and well thought out. They are truly thoughtful in all ways about every aspect of her life. I would urge everyone to read the series of now six books of letters and diaries to even begin to understand this woman. I’d rather pursue the remarkable woman Mrs. Lindbergh was in order to learn and understand more about her compelling life than to spend even a minute with the one-dimensional aviator’s wife and the disparaged life portrayed in this book.

    (Much of the research and work I’ve been doing on Mrs. Lindbergh is discussed on my website, http://www.moonshellspublishing.com — and on the blog embedded it that (or found separately) — http://www.teawithmrslindbergh.com. ).