Italian aviator and novelist del Giudice (Lines of Light, 1988) poetically exalts the mystery and the mortal balance of flight in this slender but affecting volume of essays. Comprising personal recollections set amid stories of heroism and death in WW II and after, del Giudice's transcendent writings belie the book's prosaic title. Following the account of his first solo flight (""You would place first takeoff alongside first lovemaking, for the intensity of the two is identical,"" he muses), he writes a curious dreamlike episode of two ghostly pilots on a deserted airstrip reflecting over their desperate maneuvers in the last six minutes of their doomed flight through an icy cloud. He ponders the transition from his childhood imaginings of himself as an airplane to the adult flier: ""As an airplane, I belonged to the century of the switch to things . . . a century which has solidified fantasies into objects."" An essay titled ""Reaching Dew Point"" relates a scary episode--recounted in the most meditative fashion--of the author's flying into an immense cloud and completely losing his bearings. Torn between using the objective, emotionless jargon of the pilot in asking for help and calling out, ""Treviso radar, I do not want to die,"" he gives in to protocol, admitting, however, ""Away from flight . . . in the domain of everything else, you would have detested such a use of words as a way of hiding behind 'objectivity' and 'putting on a brave front.' "" Also here, strikingly reminiscent of a more recent tragedy, is a recreation of the last minutes of a 1980 flight of an Italian passenger jet that mysteriously blew up, and of its reconstruction after being fished from the sea. Fittingly, del Giudice's final essay has him flying along the route taken by Antoine de Saint-ExupÃ¢ry on the morning before his plane disappeared somewhere off Corsica in 1944. A beautifully contemplative, lyrically soaring collection of essays for the earthbound flier.