Slide Rule

Shute, Nevil. Slide Rule: the Autobiography of an Engineer. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1954.

Reason read: William Oughtred, the inventor of the slide rule, was born in March. Read in his honor.
Confessional: my father, being a man in love with boats and the ocean and nautical charts, taught me how to use a slide rule for navigation when I was really young. It was such a long time ago I doubt I could plot a course these days, though.

This is supposed to be Nevil Shute’s autobiography but I would say it is more a memoir about his career in aviation. He doesn’t delve into his personal life too deeply. There is nothing about his childhood, his marriage, becoming a father, or much of his writing career, for example. You don’t know much about his family life/childhood, how he met his wife, when he had children, or even how he became a writer in the first place. Slide Rule is more about Shute’s life in aviation; how he became a calculator for the firm of DeHavilland when they were designing rigid airships. What’s fascinating is his company was in competition with the government to build airbuses. After an airbus disaster Shute founded the company Airspeed, Ltd and had lukewarm success being profitable building private planes. At the start of World War II the nature of the business changed and Shute slowly started to withdraw emotionally from Airspeed. The memoir ends with him leaving Airspeed after being voted out by the board. Meanwhile, his career as an author was just starting to take flight.

Quotes I liked, “The happily married man with a large family is the test
pilot for me” (p 67), and “A man’s own experiences determine his opinions, of necessity” (p 140).
Author fact: Nevil’s full name is Nevil Shute Norway. He explains his reasons for using his Christian names alone in Slide Rule.

Book trivia: Slide Rule has a small sections of photographs, including a couple of the author.

Nancy said: Shute thought of himself as more of an engineer than a writer, according to Pearl.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 198).

August Behind Me

August was…the final push to move back into the new library space. People who used to work there won’t recognize it. August was also the finishing of the deck and patio. It looks awesome. Sidelined by injury I only ran 60.86 miles this month. But. But! But, here are the books:

  • Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
  • Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (AB)
  • Lost City of Z by David Grann
  • The High and the Mighty by Ernest Gann
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch
  • Flora’s Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich
  • ADDED: Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • ADDED: Dorothy Gutzeit: Be True and Serve by Dorothy Gutzeit (ER)

My favorite was Dogs of Riga followed by Anarchy and Old Dogs.

August Ahead

My obsession with moving rocks has come to an end now that the big boys are playing in the backyard. This hopefully means I’ll scale back to just two fanatical activities: running and reading. Or reading and running. I wonder who will win out? I am in the last month of training before the half marathon, but here are the books planned for August:

  • Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started in May in honor of Laos Rocket Day. I have been able to read other books in the series in one to two days.
  • Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell – in honor of July being one of the best times to visit Sweden (listening as an audio book).
  • Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon by David Grann in honor of August being the driest month in the Amazon.
  • The High and the Mighty by Ernest Gann in honor of August being Aviation month.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin in honor of Baldwin’s birth month (print & AB).
  • Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch in honor of Busch’s birth month (short stories).
  • Flora’s Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich in honor of Columbia’s independence.

PS – on the eve of posting this I ran 7.93 miles. Why the .93? My calf/Achilles started to give me grief so I had to stop. Now I wonder if the running has a chance to catch the books?

Southern Mail

Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. Southern Mail. Translated by Curtis Cate. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1971.

Previously published as Courrier Sad, Southern Mail introduces us to love and loneliness. Bernis is a pilot caught in a tragic love affair. It complicates his entire psyche until he is in the air, delivering the mail. Flying is his true passion but it’s also where he feels the loneliest. Woven throughout the slim volume Saint-Exupery reveals a philosophical beauty about landscapes (lots of references to the ocean) as well as the people. But, much like Night Flight the emphasis is on the timely deliverance of the mail. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the very end of the story. While the plane had crashed and the pilot was lost they still managed to salvage the mail and it, if not the pilot, arrived on safely.

Quotes that had to be quoted, “Tonight, in a moment of fleeting rapture, she would seek out this weak shoulder and bury her face in this weak refuge, like some wild wounded creature preparing to die” (p 54-55), “Yet so cruel was his loneliness that he needed her terribly” (p 74), and “His heart would have melted from sadness and joy” (p 103).

Reason read: to continue the series started in March.

Author fact: Saint-Exupery died when he was 44 years old.

Book trivia: This is another short one – only 120 pages long.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Flying High Above the Clouds” (p 90).

Wind Sand & Stars

Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. Wind, Sand and Stars. New york: Time Reading Program, 1939.

It wasn’t a stretch for me to read this in honor of National Aviation Month. This book is all about war-time flying, but it also is shrouded in mystery. Five years after writing Wind, Sand and Stars (originally published in French as Terre de Hommes) Saint-Exupery went missing after a mission over southern France. He was never heard from again. Where did he go? Another tantilizing mystery is whether Wind, Sand and Stars is fiction or nonfiction. Part philosophy, part action adventure, all in the first person it is impossible to tell. Could it be semi-biographical in the sense that some of the events are real but names and places have been changed to protect the innocent? I wasn’t able to extract fact from fiction.
Another interesting fact about Wind, Sand and Stars was the fact that once the book was published in France in 1939 Saint-Exupery rushed off to the United States to write two extra chapters. It was if he could never be satisfied with the finished product and wanted to keep writing and writing.

Nevertheless, Wind, Sand and Stars was incredibly enjoyable. I could have quoted nearly the entire book, but here are a few favorite lines: “We waited to hear the rest, but no word sounded. And as the seconds fell it became more and more evident that “no” would be followed by no further word, was eternal and without appeal, that Lecrivain not only had not landed at Casablanca but would never again land anywhere” (p 9), and “Fate has pronounced a decision from which there is no appeal” (p 23).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Flying Above the Clouds” (p 89).