What to read on a plane

What to read on an airplane

It's always worth taking note of the reading recommendations of Nancy Pearl, Seattle's celebrity librarian and book lister par excellence.

She was on NPR last week offering her thoughts on the perfect in-flight book and she pretty much nailed it.

Here's what Pearl says you need in any book you carry with you on a plane: "You want a book — either fiction or nonfiction — that's complex enough to smother your annoyance when the guy in the row ahead reclines his seat into your lap, but not so intellectually challenging that it demands a dictionary. No plotless wonders with paragraph-length sentences; you need to be able to put the book down when the person sitting by the window needs to step over you to get to the bathroom. "

Then she offers suggestions ranging from "The Arrival" by Shaun Tan (a picture book, but don't be fooled– it's not a children's book) to "The Thin Place" by Kathryn Davis (the story of a few months in the life of a small, rural, New England town.)

Both fine choices. The only thing I'll add, from personal experience, is that the best long flight I ever had was the one during which I devoured Henry James's "Portrait of a Lady." I had somehow missed Isabel Archer all the way through college and graduate school and so I finally decided to pick her up to help me while away hours in transit.

The hours flew and I remember nothing about the flight but – although it's been many years since – my feelings about the book remain indelible . So I guess that's all I'd add to Pearl's comments. She's right – you don't want anything that requires a dictionary. But on the other hand, don't be afraid of the classics. In the case of "Lady" just remember – there's a reason we're still reading her almost 130 years later.

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