Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Hope you have a nice paperback for the flight!"

Some of my favorite places in the world are bookstores. One place it's always a joy to see a small bookstore packed away is at airport gates. It's hard to maneuver around the short bookshelves stacked high with the latest bestseller and mothers trying to keep their kids in check. Browsing is out of the question. You were dumb and forgot to bring a book. Now what? You pick up the top book on the stack and flip through it. Romance. Comedy. Current events. All the books have that hard, glossy look to them of "fresh new thing". There's the trusty stack of "Harry Potter"s in the corner, but you don't need that (it's at home, as it should be). So what are the options? Not much.

Flights aren't the greatest place to read the latest, greatest American novel, so you skip over that classic you've been meaning to read for years (later, Henry James, I promise). The latest war memoir is neatly packaged, but a hunkin' heavy book with a heavier price tag. That too is passed over. Your fingers skid along the bumpy titles. Here we go. Soft bendable covers along with light prices, plots and pounds. Cheap paperback "bestsellers" with little meat but lots of fluff, where the author's name is always worth so much more than the book itself.

This curious conundrum of the flight paperback is baffling. Is there something to flights that requires flat, easy reading? I've enjoyed some middle-quality books on flights without resorting to the flimsy bestsellers. And the books are often of the same genres - either sci-fi/fantasy or dark, thrilling romance. Sit at the gate and a large majority of the passengers (female, at least) will be reading the latest bestseller in the softly bending paperback edition. Covers are curled around the edges, pages are crumpled and smeared, and the reader kicks off their shoes and "enjoys the flight". What flight? The flight to simplistic dull novels?

It seems fairly odd. Is it a convenience thing (lightest books), a stingy thing (cheapest), or a social thing (who cares what quality book you're reading on a flight?)? It's weird. Many people feel comfortable buying books they usually consider "beneath them" on flights but nowhere else. We've created a separate reading culture for each place. The flight code implies that acceptable books for flights (for caj' reading, anyways) are the ones you would never read otherwise...

And I don't like it one bit. If you want a simple book for the flight, go for it. But I don't want a simple book. I want a good quality novel full of nice characterization, a filling plot, and pretty writing to make me jealous. I don't want tripe - I don't want trash. This strange sensation I get when I see five people reading the small silly book is frustrating and I would like it to end, please.

Seriously. Get the hardcover. It'll last longer.


  1. Well, some people enjoy reading some kinds of trash. Some people don't want to, or can't, pay for the hardcover. Some people, as you suggested, can't find a "good quality novel" at the airport. Some people just want to pass the time, and for them reading trash passes the time better than not reading anything. If you want, and can get, a literary education at the airport, good for you. But is it really so hard to accept that not everyone else does?

    (By the way: I've read trash at airports and enjoyed myself, and it hasn't ruined my more serious reading experiences or corrupted my literary education.)

  2. My question is why can't they make the good quality easy reads (some do exist!) as cheap?

  3. it's because those books are low quality that they can afford to sell them that cheap, because they sell so easily.

    anyway, i'm not sure i completely agree with you. what about the days when you'd spot 5 people on the plane with the da vinci code? or a year ago when every other person was in the middle of reading the shadow of the wind (is that what it's called?).

    plus, a lot of people have trouble sleeping on planes, so even though they're completely exhausted they are forced to suffer through hours of boredom which can be easily solved by an easy to read book. in that state of mind a deep and thoughtful historical biography probably isn't the way to go.


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