Reading on a Jet Plane

Alexia Gordon I just had time to unpack from Crime Bake before I hit the road again, this time traveling for my day job. Between waiting to board the plane, waiting for the plane to take off (I think I spent more time taxiing on the runway than I spent airborne), and the actual flight (which I spent crammed into an “upgraded” seat so cramped if I’d puffed out my cheeks I’d have hit my seatmates) I had plenty of time to get some reading and writing done.
Pen and paper are my go-to travel writing tools—much easier than a laptop to whip out at a moment’s notice, no danger of equipment failure (I suppose my pen could run out of ink but I can fit a dozen pens into less space than a power cord), no need to search out a power outlet, and no need to stow for take-off and landing. My travel reading varies. It’s almost always paperback, lighter weight than hardback, and no need to power it on or plug it in or put it away when the flight attendant passes down the aisle checking seatbelts and seatback uprightness. Size matters—it has to fit in my personal item. This trip, I chose a mass-market (about 4” x 7”) paperback book because it fit into one of my tote bag’s slip pockets.

I prefer to bring a book with me from home but sometimes I take the chance of finding a good read in the airport bookstore. I found one of my favorite novels, Han Solo at Stars End, this way. These days, the airport booksellers offer as many hardcover bestsellers as the neighborhood bookstore. Once upon a time (within my lifetime—my age is showing), back in the day before airports did double duty as shopping malls, the choice was more limited. “Airport novels” were a thing. Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, defines an airport novel as, “a literary genre not so much defined by its plot…as by the social function it serves.” Hidden among questionable assertions about what makes a novel an airport novel (the Wikipedia article on the topic contains several assertions that sound more like pejorative opinion than objective statements and has been flagged as containing original research and needing more citations) is a workable definition: a mass market paperback of a length that will last for an entire journey, is fast-paced and entertaining, and that won’t require the reader to consult any reference material. Also referred to as beach reads, TV Tropes describes these books as “the junk food of the literature world”. I think the description is unfair—just because a novel doesn’t aim to win a Pulitzer doesn’t make it “junk food”. I will grant that airport novels tend to be “light” reading. After all, when you’re dealing with crowds, delays, surly staff, cramped conditions that would have animal rights activists protesting if animals were subjected to them, overpriced food and everything else that has turned modern travel into an ordeal to be endured instead of an adventure to be enjoyed, do you really want your reading material to remind you the world is rotten or require the same level of concentration it takes to navigate airport security?

Novels designed to meet the needs of travelers pre-dates air travel. The French coined the term romans de gare and the Dutch called them stationsroman when train travel was the primary mode of mass transit. What’s your favorite travel read? Do you think airport novels are the literary equivalent of junk food? Do you ever buy novels from airport booksellers? Or is your travel reading all electronic? Or are magazines and crossword puzzles more your idea of travel entertainment? Leave a comment on the blog or head over to  Missdemeanors ‘ Facebook page to join the discussion. 

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