Our Reading Lives

The Thing About Reading On Airplanes

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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?

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