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The Pilot’s Bookshelf

I don’t read as much as I used to.  Now I’m getting a little alarmed by the situation.  I’m not alone.  I find that many of the people I talk to are depressingly unread.  Those of us in aviation have so much to gain from the wealth of literature in our field. 

One of my very best friends and my  first aerobatic coach, the late Tom Jones, once confided to me that he hadn’t read a book since high school.  Tom was in his forties and already a grandfather when he shared that fact with me.  I noodled on that situation for quite some time and decided to come up with a book that would stimulate Tom to read once more.  I knew it would be a challenge.  The wrong book would convince him that reading was a waste of time.  It had to be something that would hook this man of action and adventure.  I selected “The Flight of the Intruder” by Stephen Coonts.  This tale of Viet Nam era pilots dealing with the political conundrum of the soldier held in check by the politician was a tale that fascinated Tom and he was hooked.  I relate this tale only to make the point that it’s important to select the works that will hold the attention of the reader. That’s a pretty easy task for us aviators!

So here are some questions about your familiarity with aviation’s rich trove of reading matter: Have you ever read “Gift of Wings”?  How about anything by Antoine d’Saint Exupery, Earnest Gann, Neville Shute?   What about Beryl Markham?  See what I mean?  Another guy I used to enjoy was columnist Gordon Baxter.  I think that the best columnist in aviation right now is Barry Schiff.

If there is one book that I give away more than any other it’s “Gift of Wings” by Richard Bach.  There’s a reason I’ve given away so many of these:  it’s a collection of short stories.  You’re not committed to several days to complete a story.  You can sit down and read one finely crafted story that will entertain and stimulate you.  It belongs in every pilot’s library.  I’ve written about it before.  There’s a reason I bring it up again.

I recently read “Flight to Arras” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  This wordsmith of the forties may not hold every reader, but what an extraordinary writing talent he was.  That particular book is more of an anti-war than a flying book, but it certainly held my interest.  And then there’s one of my very favorites, “Serenade to the Big Bird” by Bert Stiles.  The back story behind this amazing World War 2 story of a B17 co-pilot is just as riveting as the book itself.  I can’t recommend it too highly.

I’ve decided to do something about this reading deficit among my flying brethren.  For one thing, I’m going to “plug” some aviation classics to the readers of the Tailwheeler’s Journal.  For another, I’m going to start stocking some of those books in our Taiilwheeler’s Mercantile.  I’ll do that by re-selling used books. We’ve done that for some time, figuring that by stocking inexpensive, used books, we keep the price down and encourage our flying friends to read these classics

I’m going to start reading more.  I’ll find some new stuff and I’ll re-visit classics of the genre that I haven’t opened in years.  And in future articles I’ll present a few reviews.

I’m going to borrow a technique from the hosts of my favorite NPR show, “Car Talk”:  If you have a comment on this subject, write it on a card, slide the card between the pages of a first edition hardcover copy of “The Long Lonely Leap” by Joe Kittinger and Martin Caiden and send it to me at The Tailwheeler’s Journal.

Don’t fly at night.  Curl up with a good book instead.

Happy Swooping,