Flying High with Aviation Books
Earlier this week I strapped on a leather cap and goggles, stepped aboard an open-cockpit biplane built in 1942 and took an aerial tour of Martha's Vineyard and the surrounding vicinity. The plane is part of a small fleet stationed at Katama Airfield, the largest remaining active grass runway in America. The airfield and surrounding costal heathlands are now protected nature zones, home to nearly a dozen endangered plants and animals, a paradox of man, machine, and nature existing in symbiosis.
Biplanes at Katama Airfield, circa 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Though the view was glittering, truth be told, as Cole Porter wrote, I get no kick in a plane. I'd make a horrible hotshot. When not focusing on the horizon during the twenty-minute jaunt, I thought about classic aviation books to soothe my nerves. Volumes rejoicing in the miracle of flight have been flying off bookshelves for over a century, and certainly some are worth more than others--my 1953 book club edition of Charles Lindbergh's Pulitzer Prize winner The Spirit of Saint Louis isn't worth much more than forty bucks. Meanwhile, a first-edition, first-printing of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, purchased at the Book Den East in Oak Bluffs for ten dollars in 2000 is probably worth 150 dollars today. Every so often I enjoy reading Anne's lyrical prose about dealing with the turmoil and chaos of modern life during the Eisenhower era.
Cover for Gift from the Sea
Some complaints never change.
The black tulip for certain serious aviation collectors is a first edition paperback of Mossyface: A Romance of the Air, by William Earle and published in 1922. "William Earle" was the pseudonym for Biggles series creator Captain William Earl Johns, and many early collectors didn't recognize the connection. (I hate to say it, but it's not much of a pseudonym.) Most copies were pulped long ago, and surviving books are often a mess. One dealer is offering his copy online for nearly seven thousand dollars, complete with wrinkled spine and deteriorating paper.
Pilots may drink the wine of gods, but I'll stick to the terrestrial pleasures of books.