My family only took road trips when I was growing up, so I didn't travel by airplane until I was 11. So, it was a pretty big deal when my grandma and I flew from Chicago to Indianapolis to visit her sister. I worried for a month, and thought the flight was going to be the scariest thing in the world — but, in actuality, the ride was only 45 minutes from takeoff to touchdown. Pretty anticlimactic. I remember coming back to school, mentioning that I'd flown to Indianapolis, and having a teacher look at me baffled: You flew?
These days, I travel by plane more often, and I actually look forward to those awkward little flights. I don't mind layovers, and I weirdly like wandering around new airports, but mostly I enjoy the sort of reading I can do in a very, very short period of time. My attention is always hyper-focused in short flight situations, so whatever book I'm reading becomes preternaturally special.
I know, I know: Don't magazines exist for this purpose? Not for bibliophiles. For us, the quick flight is the perfect chance to catch up on quick reads — like these.
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
I'm not alone in recommending Nell Zink's debut, but maybe, for some strange reason, you haven't gotten to this novel yet. Do yourself a favor and bring it on your next short flight. Even though your uncontrollable laughter may elicit sideways glances from your seatmate, the witty, raunchy writing in this book is worth the risk.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
A surrealistic short story set in an experimental typeset could be disastrous airplane material if it weren't a newish offering from Japanese master Haruki Murakami. This tale's straightforward prose belies the total weirdness of its content. You might finish this book before your flight's final descent, but you'll keep thinking about Murakami's symbolism and strange yet familiar world for days.
Big World by Mary Miller
Depending on the length of your flight, you may not finish all the stories in this collection by The Last Days of California author Mary Miller, but you'll definitely be eager to keep reading when you reach your destination. Miller has an unparalleled knack for capturing spunky female ennui; these stories frequently alternate between bawdiness and poignancy. "Pearl" is one of my favorites for the swiftness of its tight plot as much as the relatable desperation of its narrator.
The Name of the World by Denis Johnson
A somber character study of a grieving professor, this 144-page novel gains levity from Johnson's signature dark wit. If you loved Jesus' Son and you're looking to further tap into Johnson's oeuvre, this is a great next stop.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
If you loved The Argonauts or you're gearing up to read it, check out this long essay by Maggie Nelson. An exploration of Nelson's obsession with the color blue, her prose braids together love affairs, both physical and intellectual, with visceral meditations on longing, desire, attraction, and pursuit. This is truly a book that's one of a kind — and readable in a single sitting.
The Fall by Albert Camus
Read this slim novel by Camus if you're feeling philosophical, you want to revisit your high school existentialist reading list, or you'd like to check off a classic that's been hanging out on your bookshelf too long. (And, for that matter, if you're feeling like checking off a classic, other short, high caliber novels you could read while en route include The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and Nightwood by Djuna Barnes.)
How to Catch a Coyote by Christy Crutchfield
This debut novel tells the story of the Walker family, a clan defined by their place and personal history. In short chapters that alternative point-of-view, Crutchfield reveals how the effects of trauma can shape a family's narratives. Crutchfield's writing is both evocative and gritty, without ever being gratuitously so.
The Enchanter by Vladimir Nabokov
This is early Nabokov is steeped in fairytale (think huntsmen and almost magical forests). Like all of his books, this one is best best read with a dictionary at hand. Will produce the occasional snigger. Perfect for when you're feeling erudite.
How To Get Into The Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
Just shy of 200 pages, this novel will give you a peek into the immigrant experience in an offbeat and visceral way. It's the story of Anya, a twentysomething living in a Russian neighborhood of Los Angeles. This book is perfect to read when you're going some place that makes you wish you were somewhere — or perhaps someone — else.