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The Mile High Book Club: Great Airplane Reads

I don't have a Kindle. But I do have my pride and pretension. When I travel, I want something delicious and escapist to read that won't insult my intelligence or embarrass me in airports.

Thankfully, there are plenty of smart, breezy paperbacks that are great alternatives to classic "airplane reading." And they have nothing to do with vampires.


The Old Man And Me

The Old Man and Me, Elaine Dundy, paperback, 248 pages, NYRB Classics, list price: $15.95

Elaine Dundy's novel The Old Man and Me is far more literary than "chick lit" but just as much fun. This reissue of her 1962 classic absolutely crackles with deviousness and wit. It's the story of Honey Flood, a shameless young American gold digger who arrives in England determined to ensnare an older aristocrat. Honey is a terrific female anti-hero: part Holly Golightly, part Daisy Miller, but badder, bolder. An added bonus? This book takes the piss out of pompous Brits. (Read about Honey's crush on a certain Londoner by the name of C.D. McKee.)


The Flying Troutmans: A Novel

The Flying Troutmans: A Novel, Miriam Toews, paperback, 256 pages, Counterpoint, list price: $14.95

Want a light, modern On the Road? Try The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, a poignant American road-trip novel with a twist: It's Canadian. Two highly creative, exasperating teenagers have been abandoned by their mother. Their beleaguered young aunt flies in from Paris to rescue them. The three set out on a desperate mission across the continent. Their story echoes the movie Little Miss Sunshine in that it's a frothy mix of absurdity and family drama in a beat-up minivan. It's an easy read, and entertaining. (Read about Toews's narrator's homecoming from Paris.)


Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life And Language In The Amazonian Jungle

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, Daniel L. Everett, paperback, 320 pages, Vintage, list price: $16

Prefer real adventure? In 1977, Daniel Everett, a Christian missionary, plunged into the Amazonian jungle with his wife and children. Their goal? To "enlighten" the Piraha — one of the most remote tribes on the planet. The Piraha, Everett discovered, exist entirely in the present, without words for colors, numbers, or the passage of time. They have no concept of war or personal property. So guess what? They ended up enlightening Everett instead. He spent decades with them, and his nonfiction account, Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes is riveting. And it's serious escapism: This book boldly takes you where almost no man has gone before. (Learn the meaning behind the Piraha saying that gives Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes its title.)


American Nerd: The Story Of My People

American Nerd: The Story of My People, Benjamin Nugent, paperback, 256 pages, Scribner, list price: $14

Yep. That's a Star Trek reference. If sci fi is your passion, you may be a nerd, or just read like one. Either way, there's much to love in Benjamin Nugent's insightful book, American Nerd: The Story of My People. Its "history of the nerd" does a brilliant job of explaining geekdom and anti-intellectualism in America. There are keen observations about jocks, racism, autism and, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. While a few sections go off on distinctly nerdy tangents, it's an original, sometimes very funny read. (Benjamin Nugent carefully explains the differences between the two main types of nerds.)


How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, Pierre Bayard, paperback, 208 pages, Bloomsbury USA, list price: $14

If you traditionally buy self-help books and make New Year's resolutions, pick up How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard. Just one read will make you seem infinitely more literate in 2010! Bayard's work is cleverer than its title suggests. It's chock full of perceptions, philosophy and bons mots. Or, so I've heard. I actually haven't read the book. (Pierre Bayard tells you why you shouldn't lie about not having read a book.)


On the Genealogy Of Morals

On the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche, paperback, 136 pages, Richer Resources Publications, list price: $13.95

If none of these appeal, here's one last recommendation for hard-core Scrooges: On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche. Ok, it ain't new, and it certainly ain't escapist. But it is alienating. Nothing like brandishing a 19th century German depressive on an airplane to repel all the cheery chitchat travelers seated beside you. Bah, humbug! And it, too, is available in paperback.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Jane Gilman, whose reviews and commentaries can be heard regularly on All Things Considered, is a journalist, fiction writer and bestselling author of three nonfiction books: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess and, most recently, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, a memoir about a naive and disastrous trek Gilman made through Communist China in 1986.