The Book of Flying

Title: The Book of Flying
Author: Keith Miller
Pub:  Penguin, 2004
Pages: 272
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

Meet Pico, a librarian in a magical world of winged men and humans:

"He is pale from days indoors, thin from forgetting to eat. He cares fastidiously for the library no one comes to, sweeping and mopping the floor, dusting the books with ostrich plumes, watering the irises that grow beside the door. He is vigilant against mice, silverfish, wary of fire. And he loves to read. He loves the whisper of the pages and the way his fingertips catch on rough paper, the pour of the words up from the leaves, through the soft light, into his eyes the mute voice in his ears." (5)

Pico is in love.  But it is a tragic love, as the young girl is one of the winged folk and winged folks are not allowed to be with the humans.  Devastated, Pico mourns.  And them, one unsuspecting day, he finds a note by a librarian years before him who was also in the same predicament.  He is to journey to the other side of the forrest to find his wings as the secret lies in The Book of Flying.  Packing up a few books and some food, he is off.

The journey is the story.  Pico meets many interesting individuals along the way and hears their stories.  Each one is unique and has a special tale of tragedy, survival, and hope.  Adevi, thief of the forest, finds companionship in Pico that she didn't expect. She teaches him the ways of thieving and joins his journey to the other side of the forest.  Their destination leads to a bridge, protected by Balquo, a mixed creature of human and animal, shunned by his village.  Balquo must fight any individual who attempts to cross.  Adevi and Pico break to hear his story and decide to stay for a while.

Perhaps, one of my favorite stories that Pico hears is when he stumbles into this art community on the outskirts of the woods.  He befriends a prostitute and ends up living in the whorehouse for some months.  The community reminded me of the city of Asheville, NC with the lifestyle of Woodstock.  The days and nights are spent in dance, art, poetry, drinking, and various other forms of gluttony.  There is, of course, a price to pay to remain in the city which is as devastating as one would expect.

The Book of Flying is a beautiful book.  I cannot emphasize enough how magical the journey.  The writing will leave you breathless.  I generally don't end posts with a bunch of quotes from the book, but I just have to share a few because they are so profound.

"Look, poet, love is never what we think it will be. Love is like a boy trying to rescue a drowned girl from the sea and falling in himself."
"Yes, but what a beautiful death. Oh I wish I had drowned. I wish I had drowned."
"Love is two blind people sword-fighting, love is a queen on a desert island, love is a self-immolation, love is running scared in the dark, love is two people each of whose saliva is poison for the other, love is an empty house, a sunken boat, a crippled dancer." (40)

"It may seem an easy task to disregard a secret but secrets are like splinters beneath the flesh, the infection spreads and spreads and then the limb turns gangrenous and must be sawn away, all for the sake of a sliver of wood. " (57)

"If one falls in love with a butterfly and it enters a cocoon and emerges a caterpillar has one an obligation to continue loving that creature?" (133)

"She pulled away and sat up, hands to her cheeks. Diamonds on her fingertips. 'Pico,' she said in her corroded voice, ' Pico, do you ever feel there is some other way, long ago or somewhere else? Why do certain pieces of music move us so, all of us? Certain colors? As if these were stones from an earlie city, passed hand to hand across the generations so now they're polished and rounded as river stones and yet have lost none of their weight. I feel we're trying to find a story, like treasure buried beneath our city, and all the feeble stories we live are patterned after that pristine story whose shape we almost know. Sometimes just after I wake or before I make love I'll think, This is the story, I'm living the story. But the world always rushes in with its clash and anguish. Can you hear me, Pico? These are dangerous words for me, they make me feel more naked than when I spread my legs for a stranger." (170)


  1. You just brought back all those memories of why I loved this one so much. :)

  2. Ok...so I have had this review starred seemingly forever and I'm finally getting around to coming over here to comment :D I just wanted to tell you how happy you made me. This is one of my all time favorite books and it made me so happy to see that you read it and enjoyed it :D


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