The cover of this book makes me want to jump on a plane and fly off somewhere. As someone who likes flying, despite serious concerns about climate change, I thought I might like this book. I was wrong. I love it.
If I’m looking for escape in a book, I’m most likely to find it in one concerning a subject completely new to me which is explained with style and generosity. Skyfaring meets these criteria effortlessly. Vanhoenacker is a deeply enthusiastic, knowledgeable and thoughtful guide to the several worlds of aviation. The book is stuffed with excellent facts and anecdotes (I was delighted to learn that when friends or relatives of airplane crew are passengers on a flight with them, they are often fondly referred to as ‘Klingons’). For a taster of his prose and some lovely pictures, see http://www.vox.com/2016/5/2/11520288/pilot-airplane-photos and http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/25-incredible-views-from-plane-passengers-windows-collected-by-an-airline-pilot.
Sometimes the book feels very personal, as when the author talks about why he became a pilot, or when he provides a personal gloss on a feature of flight that might seem at first sight mundane or technical. He is not afraid of bringing art, philosophy or emotion into a scientific subject, or of relating all of these to real life: “Georgia O’Keeffe was afraid of flying but obsessed with the clouds she saw from aeroplanes, which she painted with an all but religious devotion… I try to remember, when I haven’t flown for some time, and the handles of the bags of food shopping which I’m carrying though a cold and rainy November dusk are about to break, that such a lake of light may be over the clouds that rest above the street”.
For me he has brought a sense of wonder back to commercial flight, something that can seem tedious and constrained. I feel transported, refreshed, and ready to pay attention. A lovely book.
Review by Bethan