The Traveler’s Paperback

There was a fantastic article by Dominique Browning in the New York Times this week titled, Learning to Love Airport Lit. With personal anecdotes, Browning tells of her love for the airport paperbacks when travelling. She long gave up on literary giants like Ulysses or War and Peace. Instead, trading them in for novels by P.D. James or George R.R. Martin.

All I want now, from a good airplane book, is transport. A sense of propulsion. I want to feel the rush of plot against my cheek. I want to know where I am going, and why. I’m willing to trade transport for transportation.

This immediately peaked my interest.

1) I live in Manhattan, meaning, I do not own a car, thus, resulting in my utilization of public transportation (re: subway, bus). New Yorkers are hardcore public transit book readers. I mean, how else can we avoid eye contact with the crazy homeless person yelling at us about sandwiches.

2) But more on point with Ms. Browning’s article, I have some upcoming travelling to do. I HATE flying. I don’t even think hate is strong enough a word. If I’m not able to totally pass out into dreamland, I must be in a constant state of distraction and engrossment. I’m sorry Gravity’s Rainbow, you won’t be making the cut.

The article dissuades the reader from memoirs, self-help books, etc. and offers the advice: Don’t make the mistake of straying off the plot path. You need books with hefty runways and fast takeoffs. So, it looks like I will be stocking up on suspenseful crime dramas for my long-haul flight.

The article is accompanied by these useful suggestions.

[click on the image to enlarge]



  1. The Parenticide Club actually worked pretty well for me on one of my recent cross-country flights, but it didn’t last the whole flight, either. The Etymologicon took me the rest of the way.

    On my last trip to Europe, I had Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, which is beautiful, but it really really didn’t work…. I ended up playing sudoku for a good part of the flight (the part where I was awake, at least). Ms. Browning has a point…

  2. I love reading while flying! I always pick up a book at the airport. The last one I read was a James Patterson novel… his books go quick! If I’m flying China to Florida, I pick up 3… LOL

  3. I read To The Lighthouse for the first time while stuck overnight at an airport. It seemed to work quite well actually. I think I needed something to counteract the ugliness of my surroundings.

    Probably hybrid commercial-literary stuff would work well too, like Michael Chabon or Audrey Niffinegger? I’d also suggest The Crimson Petal And The White, by Michel Faber if you haven’t read that. It folds you into the underbelly of Victorian London and doesn’t let you go until it’s through.

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