Today, Gentle Readers, I have a new type of post for you.
A book review.
The book in question? Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker.
I am, without a doubt, a nervous traveller. The method of travel is in some ways unimportant; the point is that if I’m not driving the car, the travelling makes me scared.
With buses and trains, I have managed to overcome my anxieties: I now catch a bus to work every day (my poor car is grateful for the rest), and I usually book trains in advance, and have found that a First Class seat alleviates much of my distress. (They’re quite cheap if you remember to book around six weeks in advance. But really, what price my comfort?)
But flying is not something I do often, and so, I have never had the chance to get used to it, or develop a coping strategy (alas, my “First Class” coping method for trains is not financially viable when transferred to planes). So, ahead of my three plane journey to my Antipodean Adventure, I knew drastic measures had to be taken.
In my world, drastic measures mean books. So I started scouring the world for a highly rated “I can cure your fear of flying!” book. There were none. I mean, there were some, but they all made me feel more nervous than before, and their distraction techniques left me worrying about WHY I should ignore the whiny noise beneath us.
Then I stumbled across a review for Vanhoenacker’s book. An experienced pilot of a Boeing 747, he both loved air travel (a previous career was chosen for the travel opportunities afforded) and planes themselves.
His book focuses on the nuts and bolts of air travel, and of flight, whilst capturing poetically the apparatus by which he traverses the globe (in a metal tube that defies gravity, travels forty thousand feet in the air and goes five hundred miles an hour.) I wasn’t sure how the book could help. I wasn’t sure if it would help. I wasn’t sure reading about how the nice man at the front of the plane manages to make us leave the fricking earth would do much to alleviate my worries. Yet I clicked on “Buy now” and let it wing its way to me.
The first few pages left me feeling sick with nerves. No, I had been right, this was not going to help. But his expertly crafted prose was so deeply soothing to read, so calm and assured, that before I knew it, I was wading into the first chapter, knee-deep in the technicalities of flight and piloting. And herein lies the magic of the book, as far as I am concerned.
Vanhoenacker never at any point undermines the seriousness of his job with flippancy or glib reassurance. Every action he describes, every fact he portrays, every anecdote he recounts – these are treated with the utmost gravity and reverence. I never got the impression that Vanhoenacker takes his job lightly; his voice is aware, deeply aware, of the perils and the dangers that face him every time he closes the cabin doors and primes the engines, and he respects the fear they may engender.
But he is also seriously in love with flight – the process and the secrets of the sky, even the time displacement he permanently suffers. This book showcases that love and makes it accessible even to a terrified flyer like me. His becoming a pilot is, he explains early on, the apex of a life-long dream, even when that dream did not make itself fully known to him until adulthood.
In the film Pretty Woman, Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to the opera, and says to her, “[p]eople’s reaction to opera the first time they hear it is extreme, … They either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” That’s how I feel about flying. I hate it, But thanks to Mr Vanhoenacker’s book, I have learned, this time, to appreciate it.
P.S. I bought this book in Kindle format to start with, but loved it so much, I bought a physical copy to lend to people. Yes, I bought this book twice. That’s how much I love it.