Monday, December 03, 2007

Books on a Plane

Flying makes me nervous. Not for all the usual reasons, like fear of cold water landings, fear of crashing and death, fear of sitting next to obese people, or chronic sneezers, or having some gun wielding maniac shoot a hole in the plane and consequently getting sucked through a tiny bullet hole due to air pressure differential (thanks, Fifth Grade Teacher). No. I get nervous about reading material. Do I have enough to read? What if we are delayed on the runway? What if we have to circle forever because of, I don't know, for whatever reason that happens? What if I run out of stuff to read?!

This has never happened, because I always board planes with my messenger bag full of books, magazines, and manuscripts. But that doesn't fully assuage my fear. What if I packed books that I don't like? That really pisses me off. Because they take up space. Especially the hardcovers. I want to tell all these authors who have failed me on planes, I gave up my leg room for you! Seriously. I try not to take any chances with books on planes.

I don't want to rely on airport book stores, so I chose my books in advance, and very carefully. It takes me just as long to pack my books as my clothes and beauty products. The most agonizing decisions are whether or not to take really gripping books that I've almost finished. My need to know how the book ends butts against the fact that I'll be done with it in half an hour or so, and then it will just take up space. I was recently on the fence about whether or not to bring The Center Cannot Hold, a memoir about schizophrenia. I was half way done with it, and though I was enjoying it, the writing seemed uninspired to me, particularly the narrative voice, making it less of a page turner, and it's a hardcover (though one of those small trim hardcovers), so I stared at it for quite some time, and furrowed my brow or whatever, and left it on the floor.

It's like this:

I'm having one of those days characterized by restless over-thinking, so I put together these charts, to share with you my decision making process. (These charts were inspired by Indexed, though they are nowhere near as cool as hers)

I was feeling good about my decision to bring Then We Came To The End on the plane. I was 50 pages in, and really enjoying it. It's not what I would call a page turner, but I wanted to stay in the world, which is narrated in a gossipy and intimate first person plural (we), and had the curious effect of making me nostalgic for my office and office interactions. Honestly, this book will make you miss your 9 to 5, and if you don't have one, it may make you want to go get one. After all, work (not baseball) is the great American past time.

As the cover hints, reading it is sort of like watching Office Space or The Office, but much, much better, and not just because I prefer reading to watching television, but because it's got so much more heart. There are these scenes that are both hilarious and absurd but also really heart wrenching and sad at the same time, like when Pam and Jim feel so bad for Dwight that they spend the weekend at his Bed & Breakfast/farm, except even better. I love it when authors can pull off a scene where you're not sure whether to laugh or to cry - you want to do both at the same time.

So I'm getting really into this book, but then something awful happens - I'm on page 120, and the next page is 185. I thought for a second that maybe this was on purpose, like Joshua Ferris was making some sort of metafictional point? But no, it was true, I was missing 60+ pages. I was pissed. And panicky.

After much deliberation (which I won't put in chart form) I ended up reading the rest of the book anyhow, and I could sort of infer what I'd missed. I got a complete copy after the flight, so I filled in the missing pages. Has this ever happened to y'all? It's like when you rent a movie that's really great, watch 1/4 of it, and then it gets all staticky or something. Except worse, because books are more expensive than movies and you're more invested in the entertainment experience.

Maybe, it's time I got a Kindle.


Anonymous said...


Time to Rumble!!!

I pre-ordered Romeo Dallaire's book, Shake Hands With the Devil way back in 2003 and when it came it was missing 50 pages. Not only that, it repeated the same 50 pages where the missing ones should have been.

And, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out why I couldn't follow him from the bottom of one page to the top of the other.

Ellen said...

I love that The Straight Girl's Guide to Sleeping With Chicks is less embarrassing than Jane Eyre.

Travis Erwin said...

Yes, that happened to me while reading, Bastard out of Carolina. Or sort of. About halfway through some of the pages started having huge lines through the text. Three or four pages in a row that were unreadable followed by a dozen that were fine. It was like that for the rest of the book. I had to check a copy out of the library to finish.

And like you, I hoard reading material for the plane.

Kris aka theWireSmith - Bookmarque said...

I'm the same way about books and planes. I stress over bringing what I'm into and if it's a hardcover having it take too much room. Mostly I like to bring trade paperbacks because they fit best, but are shorter books usually. Then I have to worry about bringing more than one and what if I don't like one of them?? Bah. Good to know I'm not the only one.

Joanne Levy said...

I love your charts and graphs. It makes me feel we are kindred spirits. And since you're the second person to mention Then We Came To The End, I'm going to grab a copy - it sounds like fun.

Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

That's a nifty little Venn diagram you used to chart your choices, and the 2-d axis charts on probability appealed to my logic obsession. WHo says people don;t use philosophy in real life?

Unknown said...

Yes, this has happened to me. When I took the book back to the bookstore, I started saying how odd this was, but the clerk said it happens all the time. He did an exchange for me with the demeanor that he does this all day long. I really hope that's not the case...

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Shrute Beet Farms! Oh, I would absolutely go, and maybe after Dwight reads from Harry Potter, Mos can whittle me something. :)

In reference to your most recent blog, taking a book on a plane, or a bus, or any kind of public transportation, seems to invite conversation from strangers. I don't know what it is about *I'm leaving this world and entering into the one this author has created* that screams "TALK TO ME! INTERRUPT MY READING! PLEASE TELL ME YOUR LIFE STORY," but by God, it does. I think some people go from moment to moment waiting for their turn to speak, and seeing someone with a book says to them, "Here's a chance to talk to a stranger and give them my thoughts on books, and life, and their hair, and the weather. Go for it!"


Anonymous said...

Happened to me in the first third of NIGHT OVER WATER. Bad news to lose 60 pages in a thriller. Finally picked up another copy, and gobbled the rest of the text!

And thanks for the metrics for taking books on planes - it's an issue we (husband &I) wrestle with every trip. Which is why we often just drive - more room for books, and the chance to stop and buy more, if you really need to!

Anonymous said...

I work for a major chain bookstore and people return defective books all the time. Not only are they often missing pages, but sometimes they even have an excerpt from a completely different novel in the middle of them.

Anonymous said...

Joshua Ferris' older brother was the best 15 year old I ever kissed. I even broke up with my boyfriend on the chance that Joshua's older brother might want to kiss me again and make it a regular gig. He didn't. Alas.

I really need to get this book.

Frank Santos said...

My friend's Reliant K car caught on fire and exploded. He got out in time, but with only a handful of charred pages from Zorba the Greek.