Tuesday, April 04, 2006

BOOKS: Boredom at 30,000 Feet

Ack! We're flying to Ontario early tomorrow to visit family for young Master Sam's first annual birthday tour and I just realized I HAVE NOTHING TO READ ON THE PLANE.

Middlemarch is on hold, as you know. I still haven't cracked The Areas of My Expertise, though I've peeked at it and it looks like good fun -- John Hodgman is sort of like David Foster Wallace if he maybe upped his Ritalin dose -- but I have a thing about hardcovers and travel. So Freakonomics is out, too. And I'm going to get to In Cold Blood soon, but I'm still screwing up the courage. And dagnabbit, I knew I shouldn't have blown my load and read that collection of Truman Capote's short stories (which I still haven't blogged about) because that would have been perfect in-flight reading, but at the time I needed an antidote to Middlemarch, so I took a calculated risk and hoped some other book would land in my lap before our departure date. And can you believe the luck? I went to my local used book store yesterday and it was CLOSED. What the eff?

Have you ever seen that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine and Puddy are flying back from Europe and they break up at the beginning of the flight because it drives her absolutely bonkers that he can just sit on a plane and stare at the back of the seat in front of him? That doesn't seem like an unreasonable reaction to me.

To illustrate this point, a brief exercise:

Enter, if you will, the mind of a person who can just sit and stare at a small expanse of fake tweed for five-plus hours.

Concentrate.

Concentrate.

Concentrate.

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No. You're right. I can't do it either. Because it's crazy, that's why. Long flights are part of god's plan for giving us the uninterrupted reading time we all so richly deserve, and if you don't believe that, well, I guess I'll just wish you a nice flight... INTO THE BOWELS OF HELL.

Which goes back to my original point: what am I supposed to read? I'm panicking here!

Okay, let's write off tomorrow's flight. It's too late. I'll watch airplane disaster movies in my head or count all the hairs on Sam's little bald head or something. But I'm taking the ol' laptop with me and our hotel is allegedly fully wired. I'll be posting as often as I can, and I'll be checking the comments. And I'll have access to the many, many fine book purveyors of southern Ontario. (You get that that was a joke, right?) Whoever saves my bacon with a solid book recommendation for the flight back... well, let me just say I'll make it worth your while.

36 comments:

Lane said...

Well I don't know if you've already read this, but I would recommend Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea. I'm reading it right now for a class and it is interesting, and absurdly(?) funny. I guess funny is not the right word here, maybe ludicrous is a better one. Old people behaving like teenagers, a bit of mystery, a bit of creepy lil house on a cliff by the sea and lots of musing on life, art, reality, love and marriage. I think I like it.
Also, you might want to try to read something or other by Haruki Murakami, who is one of my favourites. I love South of the Border, West of the Sun and Sputnik Sweetheart.

Anonymous said...

I am curious as to where Sam will be during all of this reding on the plane. I have not been able to read on plane since my son Nicholas was a year old. He's a little high maintenance.

British Adventuress said...

I can't remember if we've talked about Wilkie Collins yet, but I recommend The Woman in White or No Name.

And have you read The Forsyte Saga? Because that's awesome at any height.

As far as contemporary novels go, I'm not much help. I tried to get my friend David (aka desideratum) to read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled -- but I think he's not having a great time with it. I also recommend Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills or An Artist of the Floating World.

Rebecca said...

Christopher Moore has a new book, A Dirty Job, and by all the accounts I've read, it's good. Right now, it's sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

Cheesesteak said...

I've been reading Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley, on a recommendation from a friend. It's very funny and absorbing, even if you hate reading a book that's been made into a movie. (At least it doesn't have any of the actors on the cover).

landismom said...

I personally tend to use long flights to indulge my inner reader of crap--I hit up the airport bookstore and pick up the latest Robert B. Parker or something. Then I can leave it in a hotel lobby or something when I'm done, and not feel bad about it. The same goes for the stack of magazines that I usually have piled up and waiting around--I take them in my carry-on and just dump them when I'm done. A few weeks' worth of New Yorkers usually does the trick.

Lisa said...

I do the same as landismom: Take a pile of magazines and leave them as I go.

"A Dirty Job" is excellent---if you like Moore, that is. But it's only in hardcover, I think.

My recommendations: "Case Histories" by Kate Atkinson or "Persepolis" by Marjane Statrapi. Or anything by Margaret Atwood.

Rae said...

"Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages". What the title suggests: travelogue and discourse on languages. It's really quite wonderful.

Becky said...

I'm not saying it's the greatest book ever, but Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, is a fantastic book to read on a plane. It's fun and engrossing, and there's enough plot lines that if you're bored by one a more interesting one will show up in a few pages. And it's long.

Also, The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood, is a pretty good plane book.

Jagosaurus said...

How squeamish are you, because Stiff is a really interesting and funny book (if you haven't already read it).

Angie said...

I suggest Christopher Moore as well. He's hilarious. Get yourself a copy of "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." It's a fantastic read.

--Deb said...

Magazines? But yes, airport bookstores certainly provide options. This is another reason, though, why I knit--it's another good way to pass some time (grin)

The MOM said...

I think I recommended this once before, but I devoured Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite on a long cross-country flight. However, ever since my daughter reached the tender age of 9 months, reading a book on a flight with her has been but a pipe dream.

A. Estella Sassypants said...

Have a safe trip! I can't imagine staring at tweed for five minutes much less five hours.

Melissa said...

First, I'm with anonymous. I don't know how much reading you're going to get done, unless Sam is one of those people content to stare at tweed for five hours. On our trip to New York, A napped briefly, but the rest of the time we were on baby duty.

But if you do get so lucky, I'm with Landismom on the New Yorkers. They're lightweight and text-dense, perfect for the carry-on bag!

Anonymous said...

I also favor a big stack of magazines, the trashier the better! For books, I recommend an oldie, The Mists of Avalon.

Wing Chun said...

Totally bring magazines and leave them in the pocket. Other than The New Yorker, I recommend Entertainment Weekly, Harper's, Premiere, and Atlantic Monthly: all saddle-stitched and packed to the gills with content. When I get on a plane tomorrow, I'll have all of those, plus a Stay Free, a Vanity Fair, and a couple of Giants.

Crazy Chick said...

I really recommend PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. It's in paperback, so even though it's a bit hefty, it's still portable. And people have been recommending the new Moore, which I haven't read yet because I have a thing about hardcovers in general, but I thought Lamb was fantastic even though I found some of his other books (hello, Practical Demonkeeping) a bit difficult to get into. Have a good trip!

cat said...

I say go for it with In Cold Blood. I found it very readable, almost compulsively so, when I read it for my book club a couple of months ago; I was surprised at how easy it was to get into. Or lift the Middlemarch moratorium! It's perfect for reading on a plane, in the sense that you only have to pack one book.

Alternatively, you may be best served by a giant stack of board books (see the anonymous point about Master Sam's potential tolerance, or lack thereof, of your reading above).

jam said...

I second (or third or fifth or twelfth) the magazine recommendation -- New Yorkers and some nice big glossy things that I ordinarily wouldn't spend the money on. AND, I just spent a 3-hour flight with Sara Vowell's Assassination Vacation, which I found quite enjoyable. It was a very fast read, though, so you'd need a backup. I like to do nonfiction on flights for some reason. Some Bill Bryson, perhaps? And I agree with the recommendation of Stiff.

Carrie said...

Hmmm, airplane books...

I'm going to second Cryptonomicon and PopCo, though they are giant. The collected Berlin comics by Jason Lutes are great, but might be kind of sad.
Anything by my favorite fake-airhead Nick Hornby, except High Fidelity which sucks.

Charlotte Mittnacht said...

perhaps those people who stare at that tiny scrap of tweed are those who, like me, get motion sickness the very second they attempt to read a book in a moving vehicle of any kind...pray for that poor soul, if you're the praying sort, for they are probably desperately attempting to will away the feeling that their in-flight pretzel nubbins are about to make an encore appearance.

As far as books go, Zadie Smith's _White Teeth_ is a fantastically fun read, and perfect to digest in little nuggets during travel time.

j said...

I usually tell awful jokes. An airplane is literally a captive audience. Plus, they'll talk about me later and that makes me feel special.

Feel free to borrow some of my favorites:

"Ma'am, what do you call a cow that just had a baby?" (De-calf-inated!)

"Ma'am, what do you call a cow with no legs?" (Ground beef!)

Or, if, for some ungodly reason, you don't like a good cow joke, try some toilet humor:

"Sir, why'd the toliet paper roll down the hill?" (To get to the bottom!)

P.S. For deb, I suggest:
"Ma'am, do you know why Homeland Security arrested the woman for knitting?" (She knitted an Afghan!)

I know it's an old joke, but there's nothing like making people you don't know sit through a terrible joke they've heard before.

Tamara said...

I just finished The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas and am currently loving Out of Africa. Both are nicely digestible and exquisitely written.

abby said...

You're right, there are few good book purveyors in S. Ontario. However, I will never hesitate to visit City Lights in London (quite possibly my favourite bookstore ever) and Words Worth in Waterloo is worth a visit to me.

Claire said...

I'm with those that say take loads of magazines...I'm flying tomorrow, and intend to pander to my worst literary tastes (heat magazine, In Style etc.). I'm also halfway through a chicklit read which I'm really enjoying - if you can find it, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is good thus far!

Safe flight,
Cxx

Nancy D. said...

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos - a WONDERFUL first book bu a Seattle author.

The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment
WAY WAY Good Book

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink - mind blowing book

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett - really good

Frangipani by Celestine Vaite - a wonderful book about a Tahitian woman - a must read for moms

Carrie K said...

I have no reccomendations for you except to say, GRAB ANYTHING. On a plane with nothing to read? Are you mad? The bookstores at airports are a lot better nowadays though. If you get there when they're open, which Portland OR Powell's was NOT. (okay, it was 4am, but still.)

Genevieve said...

Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark; anything by Laurie Colwin, especially Happy All The Time or A Big Storm Knocked It Over; something by Lisa Jewell, like Ralph's Party or A Friend of the Family; Little Children, by Tom Perrotta; Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld; Old School, by Tobias Wolff; Booked to Die, by John Dunning; The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers.

But yeah, how are you going to read with Master Sam there? I expect to spend most of my next plane ride amusing my child.

Jessica said...

I haaaaaate flying and can't concentrate on Real Books, so I like to buy The Trashiest Book ever -- something I would never allow myself to read in real life -- at the airport to read. Or Cosmo. Cosmo is great airplane reading

Lilith said...

"perhaps those people who stare at that tiny scrap of tweed are those who, like me, get motion sickness the very second they attempt to read a book in a moving vehicle of any kind...pray for that poor soul, if you're the praying sort, for they are probably desperately attempting to will away the feeling that their in-flight pretzel nubbins are about to make an encore appearance."

I second that. I love to read, but can't do it while in a car, in a plane, on a boat, etc. because my tummy instantly goes haywire. I have to stare out the window to not feel sick... which sucks if I have an aisle seat.

So yeah, we're not just staring at tweed, we're attempting to meditate our nausea away.

Gwen said...

I second the recommendations for both Popco and Assassination Vacation. I'll add Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. It's a short story collection, which I always prefer on airplanes.

Shona said...

You know there's a reasonably decent bookstore at YVR, before you go through security, right? So there is still time to find something.

If I haven't already pimped it to you (and even if I have), Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian is wonderful plane (or indeed anywhere) reading.

Continuing the nautical theme, at the moment I'm reading Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban, a great book about the Pacific Northwest - which will ensure you come home from far-off Ontario.

Cap'n Ganch said...

I'm going to get back on my Jincy Willett bandwagon (which is tiny ... because there aren't many of us) and recommend Jenny and the Jaws of Life, her short story collection which, really, honestly, made me do those abrupt "HAR!" laughs I do when I'm reading.

Cap'n Ganch said...

Or, if you can find it, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, by some guy I can't remember, is probably good airplane fodder. It's short stories all based on the premise of bizarre urban legends. It's a concept that can be kind of hit-and-miss, but some of the winners (Groom Grabbing?) totally make up for it.

Nichole said...

I just started "The Language of Baklava," and so far it's great. Everything else I've read recently has been recommended on your site. Which, if you're to be trusted, means you've already read them all.