Summer Reading

Summer is here, which means it’s time to do a little summer reading, and what better thing to read about than circus? I asked Phoenix Paz, member of our Student Services Team and all-around smart cookie, to offer up a few recommendations.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This bestselling work of historical fiction came out a few years ago and has since been made into a feature film, but if you missed it, it’s a wonderful evocation of Depression-era circus life in America, and a romantic page-turner besides. If you’ve already enjoyed this one, you might pick up two of Gruen’s other books, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes. They’re not about circus, but they do turn on the same human-animal bonds that drive Water for Elephants.

Deconstructing Circus, a series of interviews with circus artists and directors, tied to specific scenes from contemporary performances. Taken together, they provide many insights into the artistic process of some of today’s most innovative circus creators.

The Ordinary Acrobat by Duncan Wall. Part memoir, part history, and part ethnography, The Ordinary Acrobat tells the story of how the author fell in love with circus and found himself accepted to the training program at France’s prestigious École Nationale des Arts du Cirque. A clear and compelling explanation of the state of contemporary circus in Europe and the US, and how it got that way.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. If you didn’t catch this amazing novel when it came out in 2012, you need to pick it up now! Great storytelling, romance, circus setting, what more could you ask for?

Immortal Circus, the first in a trilogy by A. R. Kahler. This young adult novel is a paranormal romance that turns on (oh dear) murdered contortionists! Imaginative, entertaining, circus-y fun.

Under the Big Top by Bruce Feiler. This memoir chronicles Feiler’s year performing as a clown with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, which plays the South and Northeast. This is a controversial, love-it-or-hate-it book: some readers enjoyed Feiler’s writing and the glimpse into a sheltered world; others panned it for being unflattering and unfair to some of its subjects.

Bear in a Muddy Tutu, a truly weird and zany piece of political satire by Cole Alpaugh. A hapless cult leader, a dour newspaper reporter, plane rides in the Bermuda Triangle, and of course that eponymous runaway circus bear — this book has something for everyone, all tied together with a wacky plot that draws comparisons to the writing of Carl Hiassen.

Finally, I’ll put in a personal plug for Circopedia, curated by our own Dominique Jando. I spend a few hours every week poking around Circopedia, just for the serendipitous joy of discovering articles, photos, and videos about all kinds of circus acts, performers, and troupes. It is simply a priceless resource for our community.

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