Give Me Some of That Stereotypical Airplane Reading


I have two interhemispheric plane flights coming up later this month. One is a brutal nineteen and a half hours, the other a mercifully short eighteen and a half. I could use some reading recommendations. The key virtues are that any books I bring with me ought to be relatively lightweight and able to hold my attention even when I’m going stir-crazy. Individual length would be a nice plus, but I’d settle for collective length.

Any suggestions?


Try Claire Messud’s “The Emperor’s Children” or William Gibson’s new book comes out next week. McCarthy’s “The Road” is quick and compelling. Also, J. Franzen “The Corrections”.


I haven’t read The Road yet, but McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is a page-turner. It does take a few pages to get used to the non-standard punctuation, but then the plot heats up and you won’t care.

Zelazny’s Lord of Light got me through my most recent plane flight, though I doubt it’ll last a full 18 hours. There is an omnibus edition of the Amber chronicles available, as well, if you haven’t read them yet - they’re a bit more straightforward, and have kind of a Gilbert and Sullivan feel to them. The book is trade paper size but quite long. Also in the “if you haven’t already,” the George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire volumes certainly qualify on “length.”

John Varley’s Mammoth is fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and screams “make me a movie!”, but may be too short. Starts with an unearthed ice man wearing a wrist watch and goes from there. Alastair Reynolds Pushing Ice is longer, and it has a nice twist towards the end; his Chasm City has a wonderful setting of a ruined-city-that-was.

Charlie Stross, Glasshouse and Singularity Sky. Now both available in pocket paperback.

There’s a collection of James Tiptree Jr. short stories out now, And Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Trade paper size, unfortunately, but great for quick bites. Another individually quick but long-ish and fun anthology is Semiotext(e) SF, which captures a certain moment of late 80s futurism and includes William Gibson’s “Hippie Hat Brain Parasite.” (Regrettably, the title is the best part of that story.)

Zadie Smith, White Teeth or The Autograph Man. I liked On Beauty, as well, but it was weaker than the other two.

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Unfortunately it appears to only be in hardback, which is a downside. Still, I couldn’t put it down. More put-down-able, but still good, is Roth’s The Plot Against America, which focuses on a world where Lindberg ran to keep us out of WWII. For a slightly different alternate present, S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador has a gateway between the Berkeley hills and an alternate world where the European conquest of the Americas never happened.


I’ll second the Conquistador recommendation— with the caveat that Stirling’s not actually a great writer; he just comes up with wonderfully fun premises. See also his Island in the Sea of Time trilogy.

Ever read any James Clavell (Shogun, Tai-Pan, etc)? Somewhat trashy (possible understatement), but I found them to be a guilty pleasure, and quite addictive. Plus, they’re really long— perfect for flights.

Also, now that Robert Jordan’s working on the final book, there’s always the Wheel of Time series… (Steve’s waiting for the series to be done before picking them back up; couldn’t remember if you’ve read them or not).


This category may go too quickly to last 19 hours, but when I crave easy entertainment I tend to reread children’s/young adult fantasy series: The Dark Is Rising, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle, and even J.R.R. Tolkien. For that matter, you could reread Harry Potter or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (although my reaction to that trilogy was mixed). Also Douglas Adams, if you haven’t already internalized his words.

I love to death Robin Hobb’s first two fantasy trilogies: the Farseer Trilogy and the Liveship Trilogy. For even more lighthearted fantasy fluff, Steven Brust’s main series (starting with Jhereg) is a fan favorite, albeit uneven in spots, while his completed subsidiary fantasy series (starting with The Phoenix Guards) is unabashed fun.

Also mindless fun, if you can find it, is any book by Daniel Keys Moran. I’d start with The Last Dancer, as I did, because its logical gaps seem to matter less when you’re nearing the 15th hour on a plane.

I believe you’ve already read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — if you haven’t, you have to, and a long plane ride is as good an opportunity as any.

I would not recommend The Road or The Corrections for the plane. Although I enjoyed both books (especially The Corrections), they’re both pretty depressing. Actually, I’m going to reverse my judgment on The Corrections, because I now recall that I did in fact read that book during a long flight (and several subsequent bus rides) and enjoyed myself immensely.

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