I have a terrible readerly confession to make: I can’t read on airplanes. Some folks I know look forward to long flights as opportunities to devour books in single sittings, and I wish I were the same way. I am, however, convinced that every flight I take will be my last. (I know, I know. Flying is safer than driving, blah blah blah. My phobia does not care about statistics.) The heaviest reading I’m able to do on a plane involves product descriptions in the SkyMall catalogue; any more taxing literature would distract from the highly important task of white-knuckling the armrest of the plane.
This past week, when we took a trip to the incredibly gorgeous Santa Fe, I discovered that my husband had booked us on a tiny, coffin-like plane that was apparently built to hold 20 children (seriously, I kept smacking my head on the ceiling) and had once, based on some very obvious scars, had its emergency exit door pried off with some kind of claw hammer.
I didn’t even skim SkyMall on that flight, friends. But the fact that we were packed into the plane in such a sardine-like manner made it very easy for me to see what every other passenger was reading. Yes, I did see a certain amount of Fifty Shades. (I’m unclear as to why that book would be appealing to read while squished up against some balding stranger who smells vaguely of ham sandwich, but…whatever floats your boat.) Catching Fire also had a very strong showing. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good number of people on the plane had substantive books out. A man across the aisle from me was reading Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, and an older gentleman in front of me had Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 in tow. I spotted a copy of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and what I’m fairly certain was David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Not bad for the population of one tiny coffin plane.
We writers are often disheartened about the future of our industry. We hear about dismal books that sell on a grand scale, and wonderful books that never sell at all. We hear that reading is in decline, and that there simply aren’t serious readers any longer. Well, I have seen our readers, friends. They still exist. They may take cheap, horrible flights just as I did, but as long as those planes manage to hold together, there’s still a market for good books at 30,000 feet.