The Critics: ‘Up in the Air’

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  07.08.01 | 11:37 PM ET

imageMost travelers disdain waiting at airports, enduring long flights and sleeping in bland, standardized hotels, but not Ryan Bingham. The 35-year-old career transition counselor—and the narrator of Walter Kirn’s critically acclaimed new novel, Up in the Air—spends most of his time in transit, in the place he calls “Airworld.” He loves it. “Airworld is a nation within a nation,” Ryan says, “with its own language, architecture, mood and even its own currency—the token economy of airline bonus miles that I’ve come to value more than dollars. Inflation doesn’t degrade them. They’re not taxed. They’re private property in its purest form.” Ryan’s chief goal in life is to accumulate one million frequent-flyer miles, something, on a smaller scale, any traveler can appreciate.

“Ryan is as original and cool a character to come along in American fiction in a while,” reviewer Christopher Buckley writes in the July 8 New York Times Book Review. “Into the bargain, Kirn is such a sharp writer he gives your brain paper cuts. Never have I so happily bled to death.”

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