Kathryn Schulz in Vulture:
Consider an F18 fighter jet: 60 feet from nose to tail, 45 feet from wing to wing, capable at full throttle of Mach 1.8—just a notch below 1,200 miles per hour—and currently aimed at the deck of an aircraft carrier, coming in to land. From its tail hangs a hook designed to catch a wire stretched across the landing area. The hook is six inches wide. The wire is an inch and a half thick. The plane will touch down at 234 feet per second. The runway is 780 feet long. If all goes well, the jet hits the deck, the hook hits the wire, and the plane stops dead in under three seconds. If all does not go well, it can go, as you would imagine, rather badly.
I have no evidence that Geoff Dyer opted to spend two weeks on an aircraft carrier out of a sense of existential identification. The way he tells it, no, it was simple: As a kid he loved model airplanes, military ones especially, Hurricanes and Spitfires and De Havillands and Phantoms. That kid grew up to be a constitutionally insubordinate British intellectual, but never mind; when a writers-in-residence program asked if there was a residence in which he might like to write, he requested an American aircraft carrier, and wound up on the USS George H.W. Bush, in the middle of the Arabian Sea. He should have felt right at home. Tom Wolfe, writing about the pioneers of the Space Age, famously described them as having the right stuff. But he got more specific about pilots who land on aircraft carriers: Those guys had “the will, the moxie, the illustrious, the all-illuminating stuff.” My thoughts exactly about Geoff Dyer, who has spent the last quarter-century launching wildly improbable books out over the literary landscape. Occasionally, as with real jets, they miss and circle around. But mostly, electrifyingly, he lands them.