What makes a good airport/airplane read?

For me, it’s…

Dysfunctional detectives fighting their inner demons, past mistakes, departmental politics and the nominal bad guys before finally getting their man in a bittersweet ending. Just as in our own real life, nothing ever ends totally happily ever after. Every now and then there’s a “normal” investigator dealing with all the usual circumstances stacked against them. They never truly solve the case they started with, but reach some sort of fatalistic accommodation with political reality and human nature. In other words, I like an awful lot of books Colm Tòibìn despises.

All good travel reading gives us a character to love or hate, to identify with as our own alter-ego or that “other” in real life who makes our own life miserable. It’s this shorthand – this use of archetypes – that lets us keep a train of thought and plotline while airport announcements, screaming kids and spilled coffee surround us. There’s no time for reflection on life’s greater mysteries when we’re traipsing from terminal to cramped middle seat to rental cars in strange cities and generic hotels. I tend to bypass contemporary nonfiction because I inhale several newspapers a day at home and even more on the road. Oh, and there’s that other reason for the trip, the client or business contact who demands your homework, skill and attention. Real life war and peace leaves little quality time for the literary version.

And those management theory du jour books that populate airport shelves? My view is that they simply re-package common sense in new jargon for the less imaginative business types of the planet. Most of their co-workers and underlings know enough to ignore their boss’s pronouncements from these books because they’ll be replaced by different clichés from next year’s best seller. You’ll generally see three types of people benefiting from these mini-bibles: First, of course, are their authors, who use them to build seminar and workshop empires. Second are the executives who get a few days away from the day-to-day grind to eat and drink with others like themselves and feel good about all that they can do when they get home. Of course, by the time they get home their desk and inbox are so full of “while you were out” messages that there’s no time to implement the junk food for the brain that they just ingested. And the third group? The staff that’s been left home to play while their boss is away. Without his or her interference they can actually get things done.

And what about those in-between books? Friends who’ve read Harry Potter so they’d know what their kids were into have told me that it’s a great series. But I’m not about to add a 400-page tome to my carry-on bag. So, it’ll be one of these days, but probably not in the near future. I did pick up a copy of The Keeper of Lost Things that I finished between Brasilia and Denver last year. To honour the book and its spirit, I sandwiched the book between inflight magazines in the seatback pocket for the next passenger.

Naturally we all have our favourite authors. There are a few I don’t read anymore not because I dislike them, but because I found that I read faster than they write. Others are too predictable, even within predictable genres. So when a friend who knows my tastes and habits recommends something, I take them seriously. I’ve had some winners and losers, but anything that’s in the 250-350 page range of crime or mystery solving will give me a day or three’s travel entertainment, depending on how much time I have to devote to actual work that’s paying for the flights that give me all this time to read.

This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.

2 Comments on “What makes a good airport/airplane read?

    • I’ve never really enjoyed Grisham. He’s a decent storyteller but I felt like I was reading a third grade book. I prefer Michael [not John] Connelly and Donna Leon, among others.

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