What Makes a Great Airplane Read?

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  08.31.09 | 4:52 PM ET

Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I have a confession: Last week, I enjoyed the greatest airplane reading of my life. I’ve never been much of an on-board reader—for a long time, I was one of those passengers who was asleep before take-off, and who needs a good book when you have the gift of in-flight unconsciousness? But lately I haven’t been able to drop off to sleep the way I used to, and I’ve become a restless, impatient flier.

Enter—don’t laugh—the Twilight saga. Over four days, the bestselling teen-vampire-romance novels got me through 17 hours of flying time, two hefty ground delays and one long scheduled layover. They also got me thinking about ideal airplane books. What factors have me reading straight through until landing, oblivious to the hours passing? And why do some titles leave me fidgeting in my seat after the first hour?

Evidently, literary merit isn’t a vital part of the equation. Instead, here’s what I came up with: My ideal airplane book should be deeply engrossing without being too intellectually taxing. Page-turning fiction—thrillers, romances, sci-fi—works better than non-fiction, though a good, gripping memoir or true-crime story could work just fine, too. Length is key. A two-hundred pager won’t get me far on a trans-Atlantic flight. And serious subject matter (or serious-esque—remember the low intellectual effort I’m shooting for) is better than humor: Laughter just doesn’t seem to distract me from my cramped, seatbelted circumstances as completely as suspense.

Now that I know my own magic formula, I’ll be dreading that next red-eye flight much less. And, judging from the number of “Twilight” knock-offs on display in bookstores these days, I’ll have no shortage of novels featuring the lusty teen undead to burn through, either.


Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.


2 Comments for What Makes a Great Airplane Read?

Upper Lake California 09.01.09 | 12:57 AM ET

What I enjoy doing is audio book on planes, it kills to birds with one stone, cuts out the noise and keeps you happily entertained.

Stephanie 09.01.09 | 5:16 PM ET

I tend to read a lot of long taxing books when I’m at home, Victorian novels and such, so I like to use flight time to catch up on contemporary fiction. That or Bill Bryson.

Even though I’m a big reader I’ll often end up watching movies on planes, it’s just easier with all the distraction.

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