Modern Favorites

Biplane
by Richard Bach

(Storyline: Richard Bach buys a 1929 Detroit Parks P2A Biplane and flies it on a coast-to-coast odyssey en route home.) This is the book that inspired my love of old airplanes. For pilots, it’s one of Bach’s greatest books and you can see the genesis of Bach’s future directions between the lines of this superbly told tale. GN

A Gift of Wings
by Richard Bach

(Storyline: A collection of Bach’s all-time, greatest Aviation Articles.) Okay. Full disclosure time … I love this book, but then again, I’m in two of the stories (albeit briefly), as are Why Fly’s Michelle Goodeve (with the wrong last name,) and Bette Bach-Fineman (minus her new last name.) That aside, “A Gift of Wings” contains some of the finest Aviation articles ever written (including “Aviation or Flying? Take your pick,” the article that got me started as a pilot). Each and every one of the 47 short stories in this book is a masterpiece. And if you really want to learn what it takes to be a great pilot … and I mean Great … you’ll find many of the answers in “Found at Pharisee” and “School for perfection.”

Read This Book.

What more can I say? GN

Illusions
by Richard Bach

(Storyline: A new Messiah decides he’s had enough, quits his job, and goes Barnstorming!) While we were shooting “Nothing By Chance” in the American mid-west, I noticed Bach jotting down ideas in the notebook that was his constant companion. “What’cha writin’?” I asked (knowing full well I’d get a vague answer). “Oh, just some ideas for a new book,” said Bach (told ‘ya). I forgot about the incident until 1977, when Bach’s new book “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” was released. And I didn’t have to read much farther than the second paragraph before I realized this is what Richard had been writing. How did I know? Because I kept recognizing places we had actually been and incidents that had really taken place (though I make no claim to have swum in the earth.) One quote sounded really familiar, and it was only after seeing the Nothing By Chance Movie that I realized those words had come from me! Self-aggrandizement aside … many Bach fans consider “Illusions” his greatest book.

I can certainly understand why (and I’ll freely admit to playing the “Think of a question, close your eyes, open the book to a random page, point and read the answer” game for several years).

I think, perhaps, Illusions is so loved because it was/is for all his fans. There’s enough of Bach’s unmatched ability to let you feel what it’s like to be in the air to please pilots, and enough out-of-this-world imagery to please the massive, new-age audience who took Bach as their own after discovering JLS.

There’s been talk of an “Illusions” movie for decades. And I really hope it happens because – of all of Richard’s books – Illusions is definitely the most cinematic. GN

Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Richard Bach

(Storyline: A Seagull decides there must be more to live than grubbing around for food and decides to leave the flock and go off in search of perfection).This short allegory (it’s only 127 pages long) was first published as a three-part serial in Private Pilot Magazine. After being rejected by practically every publisher in America, Bach was “discovered” by Eleanor Friede. She convinced Bach that the book needed pictures, his friend Russell Munson already had a box full of Seagull pictures, so the book was finally published and put on the racks … in the Children’s department. It languished there until some adult read it and told a friend, who told a friend and … it was soon #1 on The New York Times Best-Seller list. It stayed in that position for 38 weeks and is still in print almost 40 years later. JLS is one of the best sellers of all time. It was made into a not-so-great movie (from which Bach had his name removed), but was blessed with a glorious soundtrack written by Neil Diamond.

If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so. It’s “an aviation tale” that crossed over to the mainstream and has become – quite literally – a book for the ages. GN

Nothing By Chance
by Richard Bach

(Storyline: Bach decides to see if it’s still possible to earn a living as a Barnstormer in the mid-sixties.) I suppose this could be called a “sequel” to Biplane but as this is the book that changed my life, I’ve never really seen it that way. “NBC” was an utter revelation to me. The idea that you could actually buy an old Biplane and go Barnstorming … landing in fields … hopping rides … sleeping under the wing – touched me like nothing I’d ever heard before. If you read nothing else on this list, I urge you to invest in “Nothing By Chance.” It’s a truly wonderful story, written by Aviation’s greatest living author.

(Sidebar: Nothing By Chance was made into “A Theatrical Documentary” in 1973. It starred real-life Barnstormers Bach, Jack Brown, Stu McPherson, Chris Cagle, Spence Nelson, Steve Young … and me!) GN

Above the Clouds
by Jonathan Bach

Jonathan Bach is an extraordinarily talented writer. Fortunately for us, he doesn’t know that yet. Back in the early-nineties, Jon became curious about the Father he’d never known; the man who had named him after a certain Seagull in one of his books. Jon decided to remedy that situation and set off on an odyssey to find – and understand – his famous Dad. This book is the result and it’s a touching, soul-baring tome that I highly recommend. GN

Patterns
by Bette Bach-Fineman

This charming book of reminiscences by Why Fly Contributor, Bette-Bach Fineman (“The girl from a long time ago”), looks back over the lifetime of flying adventures she has experienced on her own, with her children, and with both of her “flying husbands.” GN

A Sky of My Own
by Molly Bernheim

A magnificent, under-rated book, which I read over and over when I was learning to fly. Tells Ms. Bernheim’s journey from a scared passenger in her husband’s airplane, through her struggle to win her license, become a Flying Instructor, and eventually discover “A Sky of Her Own.” (Not mentioned is the fact that Molly & her husband were both world-class Biochemists who made many personal breakthroughs.) An extraordinary story by an extraordinary woman. GN

Skyward
by Russell Munson

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the sub-title of Russ Munson’s Skyward is “Why Flyers Fly.” I swear we didn’t notice this until after we’d picked the title of the Journal you’re reading … but don’t let that fact stop you from tracking down this large-format book, packed with wonderful stories and even more wonderful images, taken by the man I (and many others) consider to be The World’s Greatest Living Aviation Photographer. (You may even spot me in there, in some of the images Russ shot for the movie, “Nothing By Chance”.) GN

Flights of Fancy
by Frank Kingsford Smith

Smith’s sequel, wherein he trades his Cessna 140 for a Piper Comanche named “Fancy.”

Another great story of the adventures that opened up to Smith once he had a faster airplane (though I’d fallen in love with his Cessna 140 and was sad to see it go). GN

Weekend Pilot
by Frank Kingsford Smith

Although it was Bach’s article “Aviation or Flying – Take Your Pick” that got me going, Frank Kingsford’s Smith’s “Weekend Pilot” was the first book I ever read on “Private Flying.” It tells the story of Smith’s struggle to win a Private Pilot License, then follows that up with the purchase of his first airplane, a venerable Cessna 140. I think this was the first time it actually dawned on me that I would need – or could have – an airplane of my own. A wonderfully told story that fills your head with the world of possibilities that open up to you once you become a pilot and have your own airplane. Highly recommended. GN


World War Two

Reach For The Sky
by Paul Brickhill

(Storyline: True biography of WW2 Fighter Pilot, Douglas Bader; the inspirational Battle of Britain Ace whose accomplishments are even more staggering when you discover the man had no legs!)

There are enough flying stories in this book to keep any pilot happy … but far more important is the astonishing courage Bader showed in overcoming the loss of his legs. This is the book that shaped my life as a child (and actually saved it as I faced my own life-threatening surgery when I was a mere six years old. In the end, it was Bader’s inspiration that got me through.) A moving book about an extraordinary man. We shall not see his like again. GN

You Went Away (a short novella)
by Timothy Findley

Timothy Findley is an award winning author/actor of inspiration. This short novella illuminates the point of view of a small boy whose pilot father goes off to war. MG

Piece of Cake
by Derek Robinson

I once had the honour of meeting Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame, Spitfire Pilot, Ray Munro. A friend arranged for us to meet over lunch, and as we drove our way through some insane, downtown-Toronto traffic, Munro suddenly turned to me and said, “What book best describes the Battle of Britain?” Without even thinking, I blurted out “Derek Robinson’s “Piece of Cake”, which – if you’ve read the book or seen the mini-series – you’ll know was a very dangerous response. Munro looked shocked for a second, then broke into a huge smile and said, “Right! You’re the first person I’ve asked that question who got it right.” And from that moment on, we were friends.

What’s the big deal about Piece of Cake? Well it’s to WW2 what Goshawk Squadron is to WW1.

It’s dark … very dark. It caused a storm of controversy when it was released and an even greater storm when the mini-series it was based upon hit British Television. To portray “The Few” in anything less than glowing terms is akin to personally requesting a lynching. And yet Robinson manages – in this big, 667-page novel – to paint those incredibly young men as the terrified, flawed people they truly were. This is no “Reach For The Sky,” and – like Robinson’s Wooley – you’ll find yourself either loving (like me) or hating the “vile” Moggy Cattermole. And yet, when you’re finally through this epic piece of story-telling, you’ll probably find yourself even more in awe of the real few. Because it’s one thing for a hero like Bader to run head long into the face of the enemy, and something altogether different to be a terrified 20-year-old … alone in your Hurricane … facing a seemingly unending stream of enemy bombers. How those “kids” found the courage to dive into them, knowing you would not – could not – survive is utterly beyond me. These men saved my Island home, and while the child in me was amazed by the Battle of Britain’s famed heroes, Piece of Cake helped my adult-self understand what it really took for “The Few” to turn back the tide. An extraordinary, funny, horrific story told by one of the greatest aviation-war, fiction writers of our time. Highly recommended (along with the 6 part mini-series available on DVD.) GN


World War One

Goshawk Squadron
by Derek Robinson

Quite simply – the finest novel ever written about the Fighter Pilots in the First World War. I’ve read hundreds of books on “The Great War,” especially the war in the air. And nothing else – nothing – comes close to capturing the dark essence of the first aerial war’s short-lived Fighter Pilots. Don’t expect the usual “heroes of the sky” routine. Derek Robinson tells it like it was, with a black humour that leaves you stumbling from stifled laughter to horror, and right back to covering your mouth again. I still think Robinson’s first book was his best, though he wrote a prequel, War Story, along with many other fine stories in the same vein. But there’s something about his lead character, Wooley, that makes you understand – for the first time – why so many pilots went insane. You may love Wooley (as I do), or you may hate him. But I promise … you’ll never forget him. GN

The Day the Red Baron Died
by Dale Titler

The best account I’ve ever read of the mystery behind the downing of WW1’s greatest ace, Baron Manfred von Richtofen (one of my admitted obsessions). Though – sadly – Titler falls into the same trap which has ensnared so many others who became friends with one of the participants of that long-ago battle. In Titler’s case it’s Aussie gunner Robert Buie, and the author gives the nod for the victory to that man. But if you read Titler’s research carefully, you’ll come to the same conclusion others have reached since this book was written – that it couldn’t have been Buie {he was out of ammo by the time the Red Baron passed overhead), but obscure, fellow-Aussie gunner Snowy Evans who was in the perfect position to fire the fatal shot. Despite this flaw, Titler’s tale makes for a fine read and contains the most accurate accounts I have ever seen {complete with all sources & a full bibliography}. GN


Classics

Gipsy Moth Circles the World
by Sir Francis Chichester

I’ll admit a bias as Michelle and I flew all over North America in our own Gipsy Moth … but Chichester’s tale of his extraordinary global odyssey is one of the great adventures of all time and well worth the time to read. GN

Pylon
by William Faulkner

A must read for Faulkner fans. Pylon is a hard-hitting, gritty rendition of flying in its infancy, originally published in 1935. This one doesn’t shy away from the ugly: be prepared. MG

Blaze of Noon, Fate is the Hunter, Band of Brothers, Benjamin Lawless, and The High & The Mighty
by Ernest K. Gann

My five favourite books from the great Ernest K. Gann. What more can I add than – they were written by Ernest K. Gann. Mandatory additions to any pilot’s library. GN

Listen! The Wind
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (with foreword and map drawings by Charles Lindbergh)

Listen! The Wind is a charmingly old-fashioned account of the homeward bound flights of Anne and Charles Lindbergh across Africa and over the Atlantic to South America in 1933. Anne Morrow writes “… it is about a period in aviation that is now gone…” But with this book, she has created a time capsule of discovery so that we may tag along on their adventure.

If you like this one, see also North to the Orient and Anne’s small thoughtful gem, Gifts from the Sea. (This book makes a delightful gift.) MG

North to the Orient
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Written by the great Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which is all you really need to know. Get this book and discover that Anne was every bit as good a writer as her famous husband. A wonderful tale of the couple’s great-circle-route journey across the North, as they map out a new aerial route to the Orient. GN

We
by Charles Lindbergh

When I first read this book, I really didn’t understand the title. But over the years I’ve come to understand that when you have the right pilot and the right aeroplane, the two of you truly do become “We.” GN

The Spirit of St. Louis
by Charles Lindbergh

This is the classic, autobiographical story of Lindbergh’s legendary, 1927 flight from New York to Paris. It’s hard to read this book without visualizing Jimmy Stewart; that actor’s portrayal of Lindbergh in the movie version was as on-the-nose as Kenneth More’s interpretation of Douglas Bader in Reach For the Sky. But to read the full story–written by Lindbergh himself–is to sit behind him in the cockpit of his all-but-converted Ryan mailplane and sweat out the flight with the great man himself. If you’ve never read this book, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. It is, without question, one of Aviation’s greatest tales. GN

West With The Night
by Beryl Markham

As an author Beryl Markham captures a reader with her very first sentence, “How is it possible to bring order out of memory?” She then proceeds to place ‘her Africa’ at our doorstep.

Ernest Hemmingway wrote this about “West with the Night” – “…a bloody wonderful book…” then went on to say that Markham could “…write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.”

For more information on Beryl Markham see, Straight On till Morning: A biography of Beryl Markham by Mary S. Lovell. MG

Wind, Sand & Stars and Night Flight
by Antoine de Saint Exupery

Two of the greatest classic aviation tales of all time, told by the Great French writer, Antoine de Saint Exupery. ‘Nuff said. GN

Round the Bend, So Disdained, The Rainbow & The Rose, and No Highway in the Sky
by Nevil Shute

My four favourite novels by author Nevil Shute. His story-telling is quite different than Gann or Bach or Robinson. Shute takes his time and tells smaller stories that reek of characters that slowly win you over, and sometimes break your heart in their telling. And yet I find myself going back to these books time and again, just so I can be in their company and enjoy the flight all over. If you’ve never read Shute, you’re in for a delightful surprise. Masterful stories recounted by one of Aviation’s, all-time greatest authors… but told gently. GN


Coffee Table Books

Flight: A Celebration of 100 Years in Art and Literature” In collaboration with NASA.

Pilots, Poets & Picture Makers form a lovely cross section of famous names extolling the mysteries of flight in this beautiful book. Many great artists from different disciplines trace the beginnings of flight through to modern day space exploration. There are words from Robert Frost and Orville himself, offerings from Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke, paintings by Picasso and Rockwell, tales from John Travolta and Richard Bach, and even Kennedy’s “We chose to go to the moon…” speech. This book provides a historical perspective as well as many hours of pure enjoyment for those who love flight. MG


Children’s Books

C-Growl: The Daring Little Airplane
By Nat McHaffie

This is a beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully prepared flying book that does not talk down to kids. The book simply follows the life of one special Chipmunk from its start through flights in many different and exciting countries around the world.

Nat McHaffie is a multi-talented aerobatic competitor, author/illustrator who learned to fly on and still owns a two-seater Pitts. MG

The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Bookstore recommendation, ages 9-12 yrs. However, booksellers also pigeon holed “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” in the kid section—at the beginning. The simple truths are the most powerful. MG

Leave a Reply