I’ve been traveling recently. It seems that every month requires contact with all manner of conveyances—some making me feel like a noirish femme fatale, others like a puke-tinged tabloid queen. The worst is the airplane. Packed in with a hundred or so farting unfortunates, it’s hard to ignore that to-the-slaughterhouse feeling, no matter how many tomato juices you suck down. The longer the flight, the worse it is.
Not surprisingly, I avoid the movies and audio programming on the plane even more vigilantly than when earthbound. Choosing between Marley & Me and an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond is not a choice I care to make. Enter the airplane book.
The perfect airplane book must match the tension of hurtling through the air and transform it into something pleasurable. For me it helps if the setting is long ago/far away—such attributes add to the escapism of the activity. Alien infiltration? Good. Dads dying? Bad.
I’ve chosen pretty wisely recently, never again to repeat the mistake of reading The Autograph Man while on a six hour flight, premedication.
Here are some of my favorites:
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters- airplane book extraordinaire. Old-timey, sex-filled and funny, with a satisfying conclusion. It’s also available in many airport bookstores.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke- A world unto its own.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson- treasure and code cracking, with enough annoying quirks to keep you het up about those and not your seatmate.
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis- A million things going on, beautifully written and no airplanes
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas- for all of its problems as a novel, it is smart and fast-paced and fun
Half Life by Shelley Jackson- alternate near-future at its best
Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe- alternate past-future at its best
Anything by Muriel Spark
Edited to add:
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Perdido Street Station by China Mielville
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
What are yours?