Our Reading Lives

The Thing About Reading On Airplanes

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Yash Kesanakurthy

Staff Writer

Somewhere between starting her schooling in Saudi Arabia and finishing high school in Singapore, Yash Kesanakurthy realized that she disliked school. It was the fateful move to Vancouver, Canada for a BA in Economics (which, surprise, didn't pan out) that led her to the MA program in Children's Literature at UBC. She had fun immersing herself into the academia of children's literature but nothing beat the joy of writing for The Book Wars, being able to set aside classics and pay attention to the culture of contemporary YA. And now, everything is PB/MG/YA and nothing hurts. Well, some things hurt but nothing her bookshelf can't fix. Currently, she is working on her own YA fantasy novel and an all-ages picturebook. Her life goals include: getting a pet dog, getting published, and presenting you dear readers and Rioters with posts that engage and entertain. (Maybe not in that order?) Blog: The Book Wars Twitter: @SeeYashTweet

Well, there is the expected: uncomfortable seats, crying children, angry adults, turbulence that reminds you of prayers you thought you’d forgotten etc. Between these vexations, however, there are a few precious hours during which you realize that you are stuck on a 10+ hour journey, with no Tumblr, and with people who are as enthusiastic about exchanging pleasantries as you are. (Unless you’re not the anti-social sort? But even the gregarious bookworms need some bookish downtime, right?) All of which means the usual thing for people who love to read: books.

The way I figure, you don’t want your carry-on to be a chore but you also want some choice, so a maximum of four books and an e-reader should do. Maybe three, if the books are hardbound. On a roundtrip, one could pick at least eight print books. However, if you know you’ll be heading to a bookstore at your destination, maybe take only six. I am, of course, assuming you’re carrying a backpack and not a purse. If you are carrying a purse, there’s nothing wrong with a simple e-reader as long as it holds a variety of options.

As for the content, I’ve found that I have some rather particular demands from my reading material while on a plane:

  • A plot that makes your flight feel as fast as it actually is. Sitting in an airplane, I don’t feel like I’m moving terribly fast, but reading about a road-trip, of its slowness, and its mandatory social aspects has the double effect of inducing a morbid curiosity as well as making me less prickly about flying.
  • Nothing too adventurous. While I always tell people I prefer YA fantasy books, I still do my best to read widely. But when I’m sitting next to a manspreader who is also taking up my armrest, my patience is at its minimum and it is best to curl up with a book that gives me what I want. If a story should annoy me, I am fairly certain it would be the last straw and I would end up making a public spectacle of myself.
  • Anything that is a little (or a lot) dense. Whenever I try to read something heavy, even if I am enjoying myself, I feel like I need periodic breaks. The break, unfortunately, ends up involving Netflix so it usually takes months for me to complete these books. On a plane, there are no distractions. You could put a pretty decent dent on your TBR or your bucket list.
  • Nothing about accidents or plane crashes. Despite being a frequent flyer, I am also a pretty nervous flyer. I don’t think stories about being stranded would help my anxiety. In fact, thanks to Libba Bray, my hand automatically goes to rub my forehead every time I see those plastic meal trays.
  • Yes, to travel being a major theme. As long as I’m not reading about a white person finding themselves in a foreign land, I relish any mention of places I haven’t travelled to. The more fantastical, the better though. Real places make me wish I were on a different flight, heading to a place that isn’t somewhere I’ve been before. But fantastical places come alive the moment I step out of the airport, filling in the dull cracks of reality with some much needed whimsy.
  • Something good … but not too good? Despite being a person who can live life just fine not making small talk with strangers, I am a pretty social reader. When I find a line that I love, I immediately want to share it with the world. When I find characters I adore, I itch to look up fan art of them. It’s more than a reflex; having to wait ages to talk about a wonderful story is little less than torture for me … and yet, this is the one point I keep ignoring. Can you blame me? A simple solution is to carry a pencil with you so you can add marginalia. Or you can join the Shameless Dog-Ear Society, of which I am a charter member.

So, how do you lot choose what books to bring in your carry-on?