English Professor W. Scott Olsen’s latest book “Never Land: Adventures, Wonder, and One World Record in a Very Small Plane” chronicles Olsen’s flying adventures in a single engine Cessna, including the setting of Olsen’s world record. Olsen holds the world record for the fastest flight, in that type of airplane, across North Dakota: a 359-mile course in about four hours.
Olsen joked about his record and his 78 miles per hour average speed during a reading at his “Never Land” release party at Stoker’s Basement in the Hotel Donaldson on Mar. 29, but his passion for the journey across the state was clear.
“My real interest is in that whole long, wonderful process of the road trip and the air trip,” he said. “There’s something that connects to us deeply about moving, being in motion.”
“Never Land,” released Mar. 1, is Olsen’s ninth book and his second about flying. During the writing of Olsen’s last book “Hard Air: Adventures from the Edge of Flying,” Olsen took a flight lesson to better understand his subjects: pilots who operate in unique or dangerous situations, such as fighting fires from the air and flying at the North Pole. Those flight lessons revived Olsen’s childhood dream to be a pilot. Olsen’s father was a pilot, but Olsen said he made the mistake of being practical. He knew he wouldn’t become a pilot professionally and flying can be very expensive.
“The minute I took the first lesson, I was kicking myself for letting 30 years of flying escape,” he said.
It was only natural for him to write a book about being a pilot after he wrote a book about other pilots, Olsen said. To Olsen, flying changes his perception of the world and “Never Land” explores how the world makes sense when traveling across it at 3,000 feet.
“Never Land” has received high praise from Senator Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a pilot himself and chair of the Senate’s Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee, and Patricia Trenner, senior editor at “Air and Space” magazine.
But for Olsen, the best compliment he can receive from a reader is just that they liked the book and thought it was good story. Anything else can be nice for the ego, he said, but what he really wants is someone to be sitting in their living room or study reading “Never Land” and having to pause to share a favorite line or paragraph with somebody else.
“Those are the moments that every writer lives for,” he said.
Olsen’s colleague Vincent Reusch, assistant professor of English, read “Never Land” while on a plane to and from Louisville, Ky., over Easter break. Reusch, who is currently working on a novel that revolves around a boat trip, said it was a great read. One of the things he most enjoyed about “Never Land” was all of the information it contained.
“It has a lot of tidbits of info, about North Dakota, adventure, daredevils…things I think interest people,” Reusch said. “It’s a real page turner.”
Sophomore Braden Carkhuff is currently in Olsen’s nonfiction writing class and traveled to Scotland with Olsen last year through Olsen’s inquiry seminar “Exploration, Adventure, and Risk.” Carkhuff said that trip was one of the greatest experiences he’s had. Olsen’s passion for travel is always present, and Carkhuff said Olsen’s extensive writing experience adds a lot to the classroom.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” he said. “You’re learning from a published author.”
Olsen will be back in the pilot’s seat again soon as he continues work on his next book, tentatively titled “Walking Chaucer.” Chaucer is Olsen’s collie, who was named after Geoffrey Chaucer, the English author of the travel narrative “The Canterbury Tales.” Olsen said “Walking Chaucer” will include the 2010 May seminar he and English Professor Jonathan Steinwand are leading to New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Egypt and England, next fall’s exploration seminar to the West Highland Way in Scotland, as well as other trips by foot, automobile, and, of course, plane.
Part of “Walking Chaucer” will follow Olsen trying to make sense of the American prairies at low altitude by following famous routes between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, observing planting and harvest from the air, and checking out the landscape after the first snow in the fall.
“I’ll be everywhere from Texas to Canada,” Olsen said. “Just trying to see what the world looks like.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.