Monday, August 31, 2009

List #11: 26 Books Read on Midwest Airlines Flight 2056

Anne and I recently took a short trip to Washington D.C. There we stayed with one of Anne’s close friends, saw Anne’s brother, and had a swanky Sunday brunch with an old high school friend of mine.

We managed to get a direct flight from D.C. to KC on Midwest and when I boarded the plane I spotted a book on one of the seats. It was David Foster Wallace’s magnificent opus Infinite Jest. When Anne and I reached our seats at the back of the plane I glanced across the aisle and spotted someone reading Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, a book that currently sits on my “to read” list. I began to hatch a plan.

After take off and after we reached a cruising altitude I began to take short excursions from my seat. Notebook in hand I explained to my fellow passengers that I was a writer (technically true) and that I would be producing a piece about what people read on airplanes (also technically true.)

On the third of these jaunts the flight attendant came over the PA system and explained to everyone that a writer named Thom was writing a piece about what people read on airplanes and that I would be asking people to tell me about what books they were reading. I can’t claim that my survey was all encompassing. Also, I skipped over those people who seemed to be studying text books as well as those reading newspapers or magazines.

Following my list, you will find a few observations. Here is the list of 26 books being read on Midwest flight 2056 from Washington D.C. to Kansas City.
1) Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson) by Robert Caro. Checking in at over 1,200 pages, this book is the third volume of the definitive biography of LBJ.
2) 1959: The Year Everything Changed by Fred Kaplan
3) My Life in France by Julia Child
4) Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich
5) Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (One of my all-time favorite books.)
6) ‘Tis by Frank McCourt (McCourt died a little over a month ago. June and July were bad months for people whose last name started with “Mc”. Besides McCourt, Steve McNair, Ed McMahon, and Robert McNamara all died in a period of a little over a month.)
7) The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury (Inauspiciously, this book is described on as a "ponderous Da Vinci Code knockoff." Ouch!)
8) Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie (A book about spirituality and near death experiences.)
9) The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir (Historical fiction)
10) The Translator by Daoud Hari (This work of non-fiction about a man’s attempt to help the victims of the genocide in Darfur has received rave-reviews.)
11) Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
The next three books were all being read by the pre-teen children of a mother who was particularly proud to point out the reading prowess of her kids.
12) Living on the Black by John Feinstein (The prolific sportswriter chronicles the experiences of two aging pitchers: Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina.)
13) Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
14) The Wizard Heir by Cindi Williams Chima

15) His Excellency by Joseph Ellis (A biography of George Washington.)
16) The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith (An historical drama set in Ancient Egypt.)
17) Meant to Be by Walter Anderson
18) Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman
19) Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory (more historical fiction set in the same era as Alison Weir’s novel above.)
20) Obsidian Prey by Jayme Castle (Sci-Fi)
21) A Caress of Twilight by Laura Hamilton (Fantasy)
22) The Best of Field & Stream edited by J.I. Merritt and Margaret Nichols
23) The Apostle by Brad Thor (A thriller. How much do you want to bet that “Brad Thor” is not Brad Thor’s real name?)
24) The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
25) Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Anne is reading this for the SMUUCh book club.)
26) McSweeney’s Volume 31 (The book I am reading.)

1) This poll was not scientific. Who knows what books people had stashed in their carry on baggage. Maybe some people hid their books.

2) There were two genres that were noticeably absent in the reading on this flight. First of all, with the exception of the book by Betty Eadie, nobody was reading about spirituality or religion. That’s odd, it is practically a given that someone on a plane is doing Bible-study or reading for a religious education class at their church. The other genre that was noticeably absent was politically partisan books. This is almost equally surprising to the absence of books on spirituality and religion. Nobody was reading Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, or Glenn Beck. Nobody was reading Al Franken or Jeff Sharlet.

3) Reactions: One woman did respond to my impromptu interview very coldly. She covered the title of her book with her hand and demanded to know what I would be doing with the information. She assumed that I had nefarious purposes. Everyone else was only too excited to share. People proudly held up their books and made small talk with me while I wrote down the author and the title. Sometimes these conversations even spawned more conversations. Some across the aisle would jump in and add, “I’ve read that book.” Someone else might say, “I’ve been thinking of reading that. Is it any good?”

4) I remember flying about 5 years ago and seeing at least 5 people reading the Da Vinci Code. I was also surprised by the lack of duplicates aboard this flight.