If there’s any decision about what to read that requires careful thought, extensive research, and attention to detail, it’s the decision what to read on an airplane. Think about it: you’re trapped, you’re uncomfortable, you have no escape… except your carefully considered selection of reading material. Thanks to frequent air travel in the last six years, including one trip to Europe and two trips to Hong Kong, plus countless others across U.S., I’ve developed a master list. You must read these. And then you must read them again on another trip because they’re that good. Note: these books have all been thoroughly tested on flights no less than five hours in duration. Warning: do not read unless you’re comfortable laughing until you cry/hoot/explode in front of total strangers. (I save my “fun” reading for airplanes, it seems.)
- Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture (2012) by Andy Cohen. I am a huge Bravo fan and a huge Andy Cohen fan. Most Talkative covers Andy’s Susan Lucci obsession, coming out, and the early days of the Real Housewives franchise. Best bit: when Andy convinces his mother that he’s convinced he’s Shawnee, not Jewish.
What not to read on an airplane: a) anything that’s been assigned to you or is required, b) anything free from Kindle.
“Bellatrix was still fighting too, fifty yards away from Voldemort, and like her master she dueled three at once: Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, all battling their hardest, but Bellatrix was equal to them, and Harry’s attention was diverted as a Killing Curse shot so close to Ginny that she missed death by an inch–
He changed course, running at Bellatrix rather than at Voldemort, but before he had gone a few steps he was knocked sideways.
‘NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!’
Mrs. Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms. Bellatrix spun on the spot, roaring with laughter at the sight of her new challenger.
‘OUT OF MY WAY!’ shouted Mrs. Weasley to the three girls, and with a swipe of her wand she began to duel. Harry watched with terror and elation as Molly Weasley’s wand slashed and twirled, and Bellatrix Lestrange’s smile faltered and became a snarl. Jets of light flew from both wands, the floor around the witches’ feet became hot and cracked; both women were fighting to kill.”
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pages 735-736
I think I might need a little more fun in my life. And by fun I mean fewer books with dead horses in them.
I always have fun when I read, but not all of my reading material is “fun.” Insightful, yes. Delightful, not always–at least not in a laugh-out-loud way. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I read. If I didn’t, I’d invoke my right not to finish.
A sampling of late:
- A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (the life and death of a WII fighter pilot, who promises God a life of kindness in exchange for any kind of life at all).
- Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder (I love me some Little House and I was on the wait-list for this book for months before my order was filled, but annotations automatically take the “fun” down a notch),
- The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (English professor wistfully explicates the belongings of three dead sisters and their wastrel brother).
- And, for my book club, a variety of spiritual memoirs, usually involving death, infertility, or both
I used to read loads of fun books. When I was young, everything was fun. When I grew up a bit, I loved reading Chick Lit, especially if it was Brit Chick Lit. Then I realized nothing could live up to Bridget Jones, not even, sadly, Bridget Jones (skip the third installment).
Yes, you can judge this book by its cover.
I made a first step towards more “fun” reading this weekend with Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, which I devoured. While I found the prose burdened with an occasional clunkiness that had the English teacher in me wishing for a red pen, I really, really enjoyed this frothy, jet set romp across southeast Asia. Kwan’s descriptions of his characters, particularly their sartorial choices, took me back to my Babysitters Club days when Ann M. Martin would spend a paragraph describing Claudia Kishi’s dangling telephone earrings and leggings covered with images of flying cheeseburgers (this is how artistic tweens dressed in the late eighties/early nineties). For Kwan’s characters, a pair of half-a-million dollar earrings is no big deal. What could be more fun than conspicuous consumption?
Also, no horses were harmed in the course of this book. There was a mutilated fish, but, you know, no biggie.
I hereby invoke my right not to finish a book.
I hadn’t come across Daniel Pennac’s Rights of the Reader until Gretchen Rubin mentioned it on her blog yesterday. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been trying to make my way through Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years: A Memoir for what feels like seven years, but in reality is only two weeks. I am not going to finish The Seven Good Years, and that’s a disappointment. I like to finish what I start, and I thought this would be a quick read. It’s short, it’s insightful, and it’s been favorably reviewed. I was excited to find it available at my library so soon after its publication. It’s just not working for me.
Keret’s memoir focuses on the seven years between the birth of his son and the death of his father. Underlying the seven years’ worth of moments is conflict in the Middle East (Keret is Israeli). I have no interest in politics or war, and I lack the emotional wherewithal to invest in this dad’s attempt to raise his son against such a violent and uncertain background. I’ve got other things on my mind: I recently re-read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (the plague, Anne Boleyn). I have Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things sitting on my nightstand (who knows what it contains, but I read Wild a year ago and I’m still not over that scene with the horse).
Etgar, I’m sorry but I need to move on.
It’s not you. It’s me.
Okay, maybe it’s both of us.
I didn’t fall in love with my husband in a bookstore, but I might as well have.
Early in our relationship my husband proved his love to me in a move worthy of a Captain Wentworth or a Mr. Darcy: he read a Jane Austen novel for me. As I read Persuasion (again) for a graduate course, my husband–a biophysical chemist, not a reader–kept pace with his own copy, getting to know Anne Elliott as he got to know me. I wore that read-along like a diamond.
Is it any wonder we’re living happily ever after?
I haven’t read the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman, but I’ve sure been reading about it. If you’re still making up your mind, let these links be your guide:
- Atticus, we hardly knew ye: “‘My Atticus’” by Megan Garber for the Atlantic.
- Abandon all sentimentality, ye who enter here: New York Times review by Randall Kennedy.