Flights Of Imagination

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Summer is traditionally a time to slow down a bit, take some days off, go to the beach or lounge by the pool, and part of that tradition is spending some time with a good book. If you're like me, that tradition might seem imaginary most of the time, as the calendar fills up and time speeds by. But now and then, that urge to escape into a book -- one that takes you to places you've never been, one that broadens just a bit the edges of your world -- insists that we apply the brakes for a moment, fix an icy drink, and head for a spot in the shade.

When it's time for some aviation reading, the classics still appeal, even if I've read them all before. It's hard to beat Antoine de St. Exupery, Ernest Gann, or Beryl Markham. Part of the pleasure of re-reading the classics is not just the quality of the works, but the chance to re-visit the person you were, all those years ago, when you first discovered them. Notions of romance and adventure held such power when the world lay undiscovered before us -- now with a few decades of experience, we take a more seasoned and nuanced view. But the everyday miracle of soaring above our planet, our own hands on the controls, reminds us still that adventure is ours for the taking.

There are plenty of aviation books out there for those reading history or looking to sharpen your skills, but for the true summer escape, it seems to me, we still have to reach back in time. The Lindberghs' books, especially The Spirit of St. Louis, still stand up, and if you're in the mood for something completely different, the Australian Nevil Shute served aerial adventure with a side of mysticism. More recently, New Englander Paul Watkins wrote a handful of satisfying aviation-themed novels in the 1990s, including the poetically-titled In the Blue Light of African Dreams, and Richard Bach explored the spiritual aspects of flight in A Gift of Wings. In anticipation of my next breezy afternoon, I've dusted off The Book of the Sky, a 1956 compilation by A.C. Spectorsky, featuring aviation stories by Franz Kafka, Wolfgang Langewiesche, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf, among many others. But if anyone has better suggestions, I'm ready to try something new.

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Comments (11)

Some great aviation fiction books are written by John Nance

Posted by: David L. Slaybaugh | July 25, 2014 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Song of the Sky

An Exploration of the Ocean of Air

Guy Murchie

1954, 1979

Perfect for bed time reading. Can be picked up, flipped open randomly and something worthwhile will be there to read.


Posted by: Edd Weninger | July 25, 2014 1:04 PM    Report this comment

Two of my favorites:

Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck

North Star Over My Shoulder: A Flying Life by Robert N. Buck

Posted by: Mark Schrimmer | July 25, 2014 10:44 PM    Report this comment

Try reading "Nine Lives - Adventures of a Lucky Pilot" by Malvern J. Gross

It is an interesting read about a private pilot though the years, the airplanes he owned and the trips he had taken throughout his time.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | July 26, 2014 8:32 AM    Report this comment

The Cannibal Queen, by Stephen Coonts.

Amazon blurb: Stephen Coonts, New York Times bestselling author of Flight of the Intruder, Under Siege, and Cuba, has been hailed as the best contemporary author writing about flying. In The Cannibal Queen, he turns his storytelling genius to nonfiction with an exultant account of the summer of '91 -- of three glorious months spent exploring America from the cockpit of a 1942 Stearman vintage biplane. Joining the ranks of John Steinbeck and Charles Kuralt, Coonts takes us on an extraordinary adventure, touching down in all forty-eight of the continental United States, from sea to shining sea.

My take: More than enough flying stuff to keep any pilot entertained. (For example, Coonts eschewed GPS and navigated the old-fashioned way.) But also some interesting asides from the other on a variety of subjects. Agree with him or not, Coonts leaves no doubt where he stands.

Posted by: PAUL BROWN | July 26, 2014 3:32 PM    Report this comment

Weekend Pilot and the other two books written by Frank Kingston Smith. The stories of a Philly lawyer back in the 50's learning to fly and moving up the ranks from a C-140, C-170, to a twin.

Or how about The Aviators. Tells the story of Eddie Rickenbacher, Lindberg, and Doolittle.

Posted by: Richard Mutzman | July 26, 2014 6:25 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for all the great suggestions! I've been meaning to read Flight of Passage, sounds like a good choice for summer... and the rest also sound intriguing.... guess I'll start a list!

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 27, 2014 6:09 PM    Report this comment

Add to of the above "Fate is the hunter" by Ernest K. Gann. Factual, interesting and flowing.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 27, 2014 8:17 PM    Report this comment

No James Salter?

Posted by: Matthew Lee | July 27, 2014 9:25 PM    Report this comment

"First Light" by Geoffrey Wellum. This is a really good memoir of a Spitfire pilot in WW2. It felt just like you were in the cockpit; this is a very good read in my opinion. I understand BBC made a movie of this a few years ago but I haven' seen it (yet).

Posted by: A Richie | July 28, 2014 10:27 AM    Report this comment

"Winged Victory" by V.M. Yeates is one of the best World War 1 aviation books, an autobiographical novel published posthumously in 1934. Alas, my paperback copy I bought in the early 1970s shows a distinct lack of archival quality, and I don't think it will withstand another reading.

Posted by: JOHN KING | July 28, 2014 9:28 PM    Report this comment

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