Flights Of Imagination


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.

Join the conversation.
Read others’ comments and add your own.