Airplane travel ranks high on the list of "major stressors," but it also comes with a unique perk: You finally have the free time to read!
The best plane books are preferably short, generally uplifting, and compulsively readable—something that everyone, no matter who they are, can really sink their teeth into over the course of their journey. We're keeping things light, fun, and/or thought-provoking with the following in-flight recommendations—from a swashbuckling pirate adventure to a quirky cult favorite. Pick one up, and you won't even notice the lack of snacks or that the crew forgot to restock the Bombay Sapphire shooters.
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
Since losing his wife, Mr. Malik has found comfort in Rose Mbikwa, a widow who understands his grief but also helps him move past it. And after years of participating in her bird walks, his platonic affection has veered into romantic territory. But Malik finds some stiff competition just before the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball—the event of the year—once Henry Kahn reveals that he, too, plans to invite Rose. Rather than duke it out like two buffoons, they decide to settle things like the bird enthusiasts they are: Whoever can identify the most species over the course of one week will win Rose’s company at the ball...and, if all goes according to plan, her heart as well.
Forget your armrest-hogging seatmate and that worrisome odor you can’t identify. With its exotic setting and quirky love story, Nicholas Drayson’s novel is the perfect distraction from your in-flight annoyances. And at just a little over 200 pages, you can reasonably finish it before you land.
Islands, the Universe, Home
By the time we arrive at our departure gate, we’re usually frazzled basket cases—but that’s where this gorgeous collection comes in handy. Through captivating and poetic prose, Gretel Ehrlich offers powerful essays that ease the mind just as they open it to ideas. From physics and art to the meaning of home and the nature of loneliness, Ehrlich’s pieces may vary in subject matter but they each ring with her profound wisdom on life, the self, and the world around us. Read them all at once, or just a few at a time—either way, Islands, the Universe, Home will give you something other than airline pretzels to chew on.
The Little Men
A quick but suspenseful mystery + a big name in the genre = ideal reading for a 1-2 hour flight. The Give Me Your Hand author takes us to 1950s California, where actress Penny realizes why her bungalow came with such an affordable price tag. The former owner was bookseller and, plagued by delusions, killed himself in the home. But when things start going bump in the night, she begins to wonder if her predecessor is still around—and if he's trying to tell you the true story behind his death. One installment in a series of a book-themed mysteries, The Little Men takes on a Twilight Zone vibe as Penny slowly loses her grip on what is real and what is just a figment of her imagination.
Dorothy’s relationship with her husband, Frank, hasn’t been the same since the death of their young son. Now on the verge of divorce but lacking the motivation to officially cut ties, this 1950s housewife is stuck in a rut—and it’ll take a handsome frogman to pull her out. When the amphibious “Larry” escapes his captors and appears on Dorothy’s doorstep, she offers him shelter until he can safely return to his people beneath the sea. But Larry's temporary refuge soon becomes more permanent arrangement, leading to a passionate affair that teaches them both about loneliness, grief, love, and freedom...Though slim, Mrs. Caliban features a complex blend of fantasy, satire, feminism, and romance—packing an emotional punch that resonates long after you’ve left the airport.
Why Did I Ever
After years of writer’s block, author Mary Robison assembled a mish-mash of unfinished pieces into one hilarious, compact novel. The now cult-favorite Why Did I Ever is the result of that experiment. It stars Money Breton, a middle-aged woman who's eccentric to say the least: When she isn’t painting everything in her home, she’s infuriating the movie studios who employ her, talking to herself or her senile neighbor, butting heads with her good-for-nothing “boyfriend,” or worrying about her messed-up kids. Admittedly, there’s no real plot to Why Did I Ever—but altogether, its darkly humorous vignettes paint a portrait of a woman who’s just trying to make it through. Get ready for the funniest plane ride of your life.
The Viscount Who Loved Me
Between security lines, howling babies, and inconvenient delays, sometimes a frothy love story is just what the doctor ordered. Enter The Viscount Who Loved Me, which reads like a Sandra Bullock rom-com set in the Regency era. Here, Quinn focuses on the eldest of the eight Bridgerton siblings—Anthony—as he reluctantly searches for a wife that will please his mother and finally take him off the marriage mart. But just when he's about to clinch the deal with Edwina Sheffield, he goes and ruins it all by falling for her spinster sister. Anthony doesn’t want to love the opinionated Kate—but the more they bicker, the more frequently she haunts his dreams...
Dept. of Speculation
As with Why Did I Ever, Dept. of Speculation is a brief assemblage of mini-stories—though this time, they tell a powerful story about marriage and motherhood. Our narrator is a struggling writer who calls herself “the wife” and has recently discovered her husband's infidelity. From the blissful honeymoon period of their early years to the more trying stage of raising a child, she begins tracking the various phases of their relationship, often inserting bits of Keats, Einstein, and space history to drive her gut-punches home. The final product is a funny, lyrical, and elegiac novel that is guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings—and keep you enthralled as you fly towards your destination.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder
Mad Hannah Mabbot has hair to match her fiery temper, plus an appetite for food and blood. Arguably the most notorious pirate on the high seas, she will stop at nothing to bring the baddies to justice—including the corrupt men of the Pendleton Trading Company. Unfortunately, one of the shareholder's chefs gets caught in the crosshairs and, after being taken hostage, is given an ultimatum: If Owen Wedgwood hopes to stay alive, he must prepare extravagant feasts for Mabbot each and every Sunday. His extravagant meals with fortify her for the challenges ahead, from capturing the elusive Brass Fox to uncovering the traitor hiding on her decks. As she leads the crew of the Flying Rose on swashbuckling adventures—and as Owen continues to feed her—the pair start seeing each other in a different light, forging a bond neither expected...When you've got a novel that is this much wicked fun and action-packed, there's no need for an in-flight movie.
Featured photo: Nils Nedel / Unsplash