As I start this, I am winging my way over Wyoming. One timer on my desktop is ticking down the minutes I have left on my three-hour block of Gogo InFlight service; the other is measuring out my selah. Whatever, haters. At least I'm not carrying around a kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro. Yet.
I'm online only because I had a few lingering work to-dos to wrap up and I didn't want to do them tonight after I land. Most of the time, if I am not responsible for keeping a small human from becoming the complaint every other passenger has on a flight, I am flying like it's 1990: I start reading the minute I sit down and I stop only when it's time to deplane.
Packing for a trip is a ten-minute chore for me. Selecting my reading material is a whole other matter. I have rules, and so the reading material has to comply with my criteria:
Do not read mainstream women's magazines, aka "service" magazines. I'm talking your Self, Glamour, Allure, Redbook, etc. Those magazines exist because of their healthy ad sales, and they're basically a hundred-plus pages of introducing you to problems you did not realize were problems until someone said something.
You do not need to rile yourself up and/or manage the anxiety/irritation/self-loathing spiral that comes from realizing that you just crafted a to-do list based on directives issued by people who think phrases like "a nude lip" or "a cropped pant" or "a pop of color" are not degrading our language and therefore our thought processes.
Do read magazines that are like dispatches from a strange fictional land. I really like Vanity Fair for this, because they clearly have a dozen writers on the "obscure members of royalty and their difficulty in doing anything other than having scandalous marriages" beat.
Also, sandwiched between articles on movie star erotomaniacs of yesteryear and Cheryl Tunt-level insane rich people of now, you'll find a devastatingly incisive and well-reported piece on foreign affairs or the financial markets.
That said, Vogue is also an acceptable runner-up. I still recall fondly the flight where I was reading the house tour and the writer rhapsodized about the down-to-earth people who owned a five-story brownstone in Manhattan, and how they liked nothing better than swimming laps in their turquoise-tiled pool in the basement, then swaddling themselves in clean, snowy white robes before taking the elevator to the balcony garden to enjoy the snow. You know, as the humble do.
(Oh, for the glory days when Julia Reed and Jeffrey Steingarten were raising that magazine's IQ.)
Do know your reading pace and pack books accordingly. The happiest flight I have ever taken was the San Francisco to Honolulu jaunt where I read approximately half of Cryptonomicon. I actually saved the back half of that book for the return leg, so that I could repeat the same delightful experience of reading without the niggling fear that I'd run out of book before we landed.
This pacing rule is the reason I once went through security at Logan twice. I realized that I had no interest in spending an entire flight catching up on reading that felt like homework, and the only decent bookstore (for an airport range of "decent") was outside the gate. And that is how I came to own a hardcover copy of Under the Dome, which I finished five minutes before landing.
This story brings me to my next two points ...
Research what you bring, bookwise. The three worst flights of my life did not involve turbulence, medical emergencies or the side effects from my daughter's twelve-hour nursing strike. One is linked to my horrified read of John Shirley's Wetbones -- I had thought, "I loved City Come A Walkin', so surely I'll like this?"
The second was a flight to DC where I made the error of picking up a Jodi Picoult book and loathing everyone in it PLUS the twist at the end. (Subsequent flips through other Picoult books has confirmed that she is not the author for me, because of that formula. I can't even recall which book I read, only that I loathed the adult female protagonist and despised the last two chapters even more.)
The last one is linked to reading Sarah's Key, because when you are a pregnant lady reading about children dying thanks to grown-ups' cowardice and brutality, you end the flight muttering, "I hate everyone and this is why I stick to sci-fi and fantasy whenever I get tired of nonfiction."
Manage your mood with your reading. Think about it: You're locked in a metal tube for however many hours. Your ability to do anything other than sit and eat and read and write is really limited. So maybe an airplane isn't the best place to crack open anything that's going to make you really upset or amp you up to the point where you've got a fifty item to-do list organized into three levels of subtasks. Airplane reading is the "I've been meaning to get to that!" reading, not the "Crap, I've had that on my to-do list" reading.
Do not ever rely on an airport bookstore or newsstand. Because that's how you end up with Jodi Picoult or Tatiana de Rosnay.
Once I finish this up -- I'm over South Dakota now, because that is what happens when you go 544 miles per hour -- I'll wrap up my background research for a meeting I have, and then I'll crack open my Kindle. I know, I know -- I said I like to fly like it's 1990. But let's get to the last rule ...
Never hesitate to use whatever means necessary to bring the reading material you need.
Happy flying and happy reading, everyone! See you on the ground.