Flying into the past

Janet Clapp

Flying in an airplane these days often means cramped seating, luggage fees, long lines at security checkpoints, and many other inconveniences. But about a century ago, when flying was a new frontier for intrepid aviators in small planes, flying meant finding freedom in the skies. It was a quickly changing era, when an ocean crossing could mean death, and new records were continually set. Numerous books explore the history of flight; here is a sample of titles about women pilots in the early twentieth century.

Crossing the Horizon

by Laurie Notaro

“The splendor and alchemy was consuming, swallowing her whole every time she lifted off the ground, dashing through clouds and soaring far above the rest of those anchored below.” In this novel, three women compete to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Southerner Ruth Elder loved excitement and exuded charm, wealthy Mabel Boll wanted to be celebrated as “Queen of the Air,” and Elsie Mackay was one of the first women in England to earn her pilot’s license. “She was determined that nothing could stop her from charging into her place in history. Not the weather, not the crew, and certainly not the other women who pined for the title that would be hers in a matter of hours.”

Circling the Sun

by Paula McClain

“Now I stood at the threshold of another great turning, perhaps the most important of my life…Flying demanded more courage and faith than I actually possessed, and it wanted my best, my whole self. I would have to work very hard to be any good at it at all, and be more than a little mad to be great, to give my life over to it. But that’s just what I meant to do.” In this historical novel, McClain fictionalizes the childhood and early adulthood of Beryl Markham, before she became famous for flying solo east to west across the Atlantic Ocean. Growing up in Kenya with her father, Markham learned to train racehorses and experienced two unhappy marriages. “Kenya was forever shedding its skin and showing itself to you all over again. You didn’t need to sail away for that. You only needed to turn around.”

West with the Night

by Beryl Markham

“All this had happened, and if some of it was hard for me to believe, I had my logbooks and my pound of scraps and papers to prove it to myself — memory in ink.” Written in 1942, this memoir tells Markham’s real life story growing up on a farm, training horses, and flying over Africa. “From the time I arrived in British East Africa at the indifferent age of four and went through the barefoot stage of early youth hunting wild pig with the Nandi, later training race-horses for a living, and still later scouting Tanganyika and the waterless bush country between the Tana and Athi Rivers, by aeroplane, for elephant, I remained so happily provincial I was unable to discuss the boredom of being alive with any intelligence until I had gone to London and lived there a year.”

Flying Blind

by Max Allan Collins

“I hadn’t thought of her in a long time, at least a week, when that damned Texan came around, stirring memories.” In this mystery novel, tough, wise-cracking private investigator Nathan Heller is mostly retired in 1970 when he is hired to find out the truth of what happened to Amelia Earhart. The story goes back in time to 1935, when he accompanies her on a speaking tour, and then 1940 when he went behind enemy lines in search of her. “We were great pals now, Amy and me, having shared the special intimacy of late-night gabfests as we rolled over the roadways of America in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the predawn morning; that big lumbering Franklin became a confessional, as the blanket of stars in clear Midwestern skies lulled us both into sharing confidences.”

The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart

by Mary S. Lovell

“In 1928, she had been the first woman to fly across the Atlantic; four years later, she became the first woman to fly it solo at a time when only one other person — Charles Lindbergh — had done so. Subsequently, she performed any number of aviation ‘firsts,’ many of which were also ‘first woman’ records.” This biography recounts the life of Earhart, from her 1897 Kansas birth to the theories about her 1937 final flight. In 1986, Lovell wrote, “Amelia was back in the news again, and has really never left it since. From time to time, a newspaper will run a story about her disappearance, hinting that another clue has been found, and a flurry of correspondence usually results.”

Take flight at the Rutland Free Library with the titles above as well as many others on the history of aviation.

Happy reading!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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