Choosing the right book for traveling is never easy: If it's one you haven't started yet, there's the fear that it won't be good and you'll get stuck. But bring a book you have begun, and the consequences could be worse: You might finish it mid-flight with nothing more to read. To solve the book/flight conundrum, here’s a list of recommendations by trip type.
1. SHORT COMMUTER FLIGHTS
DEAR EVAN HANSEN BY STEVEN LEVENSON AND BENJ PASEK
For short flights, consider reading a play: The majority are written to last around two hours, after all. And if you’re flying into or out of New York, make it Broadway. Thematically, Steven Levenson’s original work that eventually transformed into Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen is like a modern-day version of the play Our Town. Like the Thornton Wilder classic—which we also recommend—Dear Evan Hansen uses youth and relationships to show how we all crave connection in an increasingly isolated world. If a play’s not your thing, author Val Emmich’s novelization of the same name is also available.
2. CROSS-COUNTRY TRIPS
On longer flights, delve into a mid-length classic. Like the rest of his novels, Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood deals with the problems of poverty, focusing on inheritances that may or may not arrive. What makes Drood unique and the perfect length for flights? Dickens died before he finished writing it, so it’s not very long (at least compared his other works). Consider an edition with supplemental commentary (like Modern Library Classics) in case you get delayed.
For those who like their tomes more complete, there’s Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, an autobiographical novel about freedom, travel, and youth. Bonus points if you’re flying to San Francisco, where he and other Beat writers made their name.
3. LONG-HAUL INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS
Wayetu Moore’s She Would Be King uses the power of story to show the injustice African women face across time and place. From a plot perspective, the novel describes how the country of Liberia began. But on a deeper level, Moore crafts a world where women undeniably are not victims: They are a driving, creation force.
Patti Callahan’s Becoming Mrs Lewis describes how theologian CS Lewis met his wife. But this isn’t the shallow love story its name might suggest: Literary in nature, Becoming Mrs Lewis takes time to digest, making it perfect for longer trips. Well-structured and impeccably researched, characterization drives this story to completion with a narrative so intimate, you’ll forget you’re on a plane.
Set to publish December 4—just in time for holiday vacation—Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River explores the lives of multiple characters after one man finds a girl who appears to be dead in the Thames. With the richness of her language, the author creates a mystery where all the characters' stories intersect. They all claim the child is theirs—not for her sake, but for their own. In this story, every word matters, and you'll enjoy wading through all the stories to find the truth about the little girl and where she really came from.
4. TRIPS WITH A LAYOVER:
Short stories are ideal for commuter flights, as you can finish one then gauge how much time's left before starting another. They’re also great for layovers for the same reason: Interruptions don’t mean pulling yourself out of the story; they come naturally as you move from one tale (or plane) to another. And if you don’t like one, you can always skip it and move on. That’s why we recommend anthologies over single-author collections.
Knopf Doubleday’s The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, a 20-story anthology, or Catapult’s PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2018, a collection of 12. Both include the best short fiction published by literary magazines over the last year. Together, they serve as a greatest hits list for contemporary fiction, a way to quickly get up to speed on what’s being published without slogging through journal after journal.
Want to stick to novels instead? Pick up Sandie Jones’s The Other Woman, a psychological thriller where the “other woman” the main character’s soon-to-be mother-in-law. It’s fairly light reading, which means you won’t lose track when you have to change planes. The deeper you get into the story, the more compelling it becomes, so you’ll definitely want power through to the ending before you land.