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What I'm Reading (No. 77): the unique pleasures of reading on planes
Hope you all had a great 4th of July yesterday, and that the time off provided (and is still providing) some ample reading time. I'd love to hear what you're taking in over the long weekend.
Last week I traveled to Tulsa for a work meeting. It was just a one-day trip — there in the morning and back at night. It ends up being a long day with many hours spent either in the air, or waiting to be in the air.
Yet, ultimately, I always enjoy the travel, even when delayed and headache-inducing.
Why is that? Because of the excuse to read a book for a long, uninterrupted period of time — something that's in short supply with young kids.
There's so much dead time when traveling by air. Waiting in line to go through security, sitting at your gate, killing time during the inevitable delay — all are chances to read! (Especially when you have a small paperback that's easily handled with one hand.)
And while wi-fi and electronic diversions are the norm on airplanes these days, that wasn't always the case. Even just 5-10 years ago, your entertainment options were either to socialize, watch the lame in-flight programming, or read a book.
As an introvert and bibliophile, I of course always chose (and still choose) the latter option. Yes, I could make small talk and be social, but frankly, I always just use it as a chance to curl into my own psyche and read an entire book or two.
It's heavenly, and even necessary in our distracted world where long chunks of reading time are few and far between.
I've found the best airplane reading to be fairly light, especially when it's at the end of the day. During the morning leg of my Tulsa trip I was pretty fresh and able to read Les Mis, which is partially hard to do just because of its sheer weight. (I'm about 600 pages in.) On the evening leg, I was exhausted, so something of a more lighthearted and effortless nature was required. (See below for what I decided on.)
To recap: When flying, read. A lot. Use up all that dead time. Lighter books (both in size/weight and in effort needed) are generally preferred, but not always.
Do you agree? I'd love to hear.
*Note: These benefits are decidedly not realized when traveling with small children. In those instances where we've traveled as a family, I always make sure to have a good Kindle book loaded on my phone for easy one-handed reading. That's the only way books happen when flying with kids. And it of course has to be something that doesn't take too much focus.
Okay, let's take a look at a quick aviation-focused reading list, and then the book I happily consumed in a couple hours of air travel last week.
An Airplane Reading List
I also really enjoy reading about airplanes, sometimes even while on airplanes.
Airframe by Michael Crichton. One of my favorites of his, actually. An airplane crashes. Investigators get involved. A technical mystery about what brought down a wide-bodied jet.
747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet by Joe Sutter. I really enjoyed this memoir by the guy who was the lead designer for the 747.
"What Really Happened to Malaysia's Missing Airplane" by William Langewiesche. This is an engrossing longform article from The Atlantic. The disappearance of MH370 is one of the most perplexing aviation mysteries of all time. Langewiesche puts forth a rather credible and believable theory.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. An underrated novel from 2017. A small plane crashes into the ocean off of Martha's Vineyard (very JFK Jr.-esque). There are two survivors. What happened not only during and after the crash, but also before the fall?
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. The master storyteller makes my list for the second week in a row. The delightful and often harrowing story of aviation's humble start. As much about business as it is flight. Added bonus: it's much shorter than a lot of his other books.
I really could keep going for quite a while here. But I won't. For your sake.
The Humans by Matt Haig
You'll recognize the author's name from just two weeks ago, when I read and enjoyed How to Stop Time. That was a very human look at the nature of time — its slowing, its speeding, its unchanging and yet ever-changing nature.
The Humans is similar in its essence: the book is a fictional take on what gives life meaning and happiness, with as unique a premise as I've come across in fiction.
Right from the start, we learn that an alien from a highly advanced planet has taken the form of Professor Andrew Martin (the real prof has been killed by some alien buddies). This alien is functionally a middle-aged newborn. He has no knowledge of Planet Earth or its sometimes arcane rules and functions.
There's plenty of humor as Alien Andrew learns about our world: coffee is gross (but tea is nice), clothes are generally mandatory, beef is just dead cow but nobody wants to say that, traffic is literally the worst, etc.
There's also a lot of human richness. Andrew starts out with a mission to kill some people who might have information about a math puzzle that will forward society by leaps and bounds. As the days go by, he experiences more of what life on Earth has to offer. Yes, there's pain and struggle and selfishness and superficiality; but there's also poetry and nature and friendship and love.
My opinion of The Humans really mirrored what I felt about How to Stop Time: it was quick-reading, enjoyable, and had an ending that was a little cheesy. Definitely worth the minimal time investment, and when I'm looking for some lighter fare in the future I'll definitely look up his name again (he has a handful of novels to choose from).
That's all for me this week. Next week, you'll be hearing about a short novel of the Korean War as well as a true story from WWII that's as incredible as I've ever read.
Again, I'd love to hear about your holiday/long weekend reading plans! Thank you for your time and inbox space. It's much appreciated, and not taken for granted.