The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

pages keep on turning

As some readers may be aware, at the end of March I'm heading on a little trip overseas for a few months.

This trip will begin with a rather long flight, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Suitcase space is at a premium, so I'm limiting myself to only carrying one (reading) book at any one time.

Thus I'm looking for a guaranteed winner, nice and thick, but not too hardcore, to take on the plane. It needs to be able to keep me interested, through the long long hours, be paperback, and preferably have a distinct ending so that I'm not annoyed that I haven't packed the sequel.

Oh and it needs to be something I haven't read before.

Recommendations please, dear readers, for your Best Aeroplane Read (Long Flight).


Maia said...

Have you read the Poisonwood Bible? That's what I always recommend when people want a page turner. But it's more than a bit depressing. Less depressing, but suitably gripping is Geraldene Brooks A Year of Wonders. Actually come to think of John Le Carre would be quite good for planes.

But then I'm weird - the only time I ever read theory is on long flights - I've got through four or five books on economic analyses of housework on long distance travel. I also read Backlash on an overnight bus once.

I admire your discipline, by the way, I never seen to travel with less than 10 books, which is more than a tad ridiculous.

span said...

Sorry, read them both. Please try again.

Maia said...

Does it have to be fiction?

Have you read much Alice Munro? The Lives of Girls and Women might be good for a plane.

What about Elizabeth Knox's dream hunter? It is the first of a trilogy, but the rest haven't been published yet, and it has a reasonable amount of resolution.

span said...

Non-fiction that has some kind of narrative is ok. It needs to have clear characters. I find non-fiction hard to read, it's a pain really. I loved The Mitford Girls, and in general biographies seem to be ok as long as they aren't too date-heavy.

Haven't read Dream Hunter yet and that Alice Munro sounds good, how long are they?

Thanks for this Maia :-)

jarrod said...

How about one of the books in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle? Nice and thick, and with some interesting perspectives on science and economic theory while also maintaining a pretty darn good adventure story. The first one is Quicksilver, the second one is The Confusion, and the third one is System of the World.

span said...

That sounds good jarrod, I'm quite keen on fantasy and sci-fi, although I haven't read much in recent years. (Currently wading oh so slowly through Titus Groan, you know a book is a long slow read when you feel like you are getting close to the end when you still have 200 pages to go).

Do they have strong woman characters? I can't abide sci-fi that wouldn't pass the Mo Movie Measure.

Any other suggestions folks?

Maia said...

Two of my favourite autobiographies are Gillian Slovo's Ever Secret Thing, and Sally Belfrage's Unamerican Activities. While they're both probably reasonably hard to find they're incredibly interesting, and date free. If you haven't read Backlash then you might consider it. It is good and long, and while it doesn't have a narrative, it is kind of like a collection of short stories when it comes to readability. Or Nickel and Dimed, might be good

I wouldn't think either Dream Hunter or The Lives of Girls and Women were long enough for a long-haul flight myself, 200-300 pages. I'd particularly recommend Dream Hunter because it's good and absorbing.

Don't get me started on the Mitford Girls. I think anyone who writes about the Mitford's should have at least a small grasp of politics, and possibly some knowledge of American History.

Ghet said...

*snickers* Dear gods, you're reading Titus Groan? I really liked the first two Gormeghast books, but man... on drugs you say? WHo'd'a thought...

Read any AS Byatt? I really liked Possession, and it's quite weighty and self-contained. If you want strong woman scifi you want David Weber's Honor Harrington books, but they're not long and all inter-related.

I'd just pack a bunch of Spider Robinson and drive people crazy giggling all the way.

stef said...

Chick lit
In her shoes
or good in bed by Jennifer Weiner.

Light Political Reading.
Madam Mao's last dancer (loved that)
First the they killed my father
Micheal Breen's book on Kim Jong Il.

Ed said...

If you're looking for something less politically charged, I'd reccomend Sea Change by Robert Goddard (historical fiction). The book covers a fairly broad period with plenty of twists and what not to keep you interested so it's a little bit hard to sum it up so here's the blurb:

It is January 1721. London is reeling from the effects of the greatest financial scandal of the age, the collapse of the South Sea Bubble. William Spandrel, a penniless mapmaker, is offered a discharge of his debts by his principal creditor, Sir Theodore Janssen, a director of the South Sea Company, on one condition: he must secretly convey an important package to a friend of Janssen's, Ysbrand de Vries, in Amsterdam. The package safely delivered, Spandrel barely survives an attempt on his life, only to be blamed for the murder of de Vries himself. When de Vries' secratery, his English wife and the package go missing shortly afterwards, Spandrel realizes that he has becomea pawin in several people's games. British Government agents, and others, are on his trail, believing that the mysterious package contained secret details of the great South Sea scandal - secrets so explosive their publication could spark a revolution in England

Sea Change comes to 401 pages including three funky appendices if 18th century European history and geography aren't really your thing. If you wanted a fantasy book with a strong female character you could go for Dragons of a Fallen Sun, the first book in the Dragonlance series and it's typically solid Weis/Hickman writing but at 650-something pages it might get a bit unwieldy as you dash from continent to continent. My reccomendations for politically geared books are inevitably biased but if you're after conservative bashing books I'd reccomend 'Rights of Passage' by Chris Laidlaw is a decent read.

Terence said...

Hhhmmmmm…normally I never comment here because, usually, I agree with what you say. So I read your blog thinking good point; good point – and then I’m off.

But truly, this “one book” suggestion of yours just seems wrong to me (not in the way that Sir Humpties seems wrong) but wrong none the less.

What if the book you take is really bad; and then what if your flight is delayed and you are stuck without an ally in the dehumanisation zone that is most airports; and what if you can’t buy something else….honestly I’m getting anxious thinking about it and it isn’t even me flying.

At least consider taking 3 smaller paper backs or something (same space more choice)….


Have you read the Disposed by Ursula Le Guin; not maybe her best book but its interesting in that it’s her attempt at conceiving how an Anarchist world might run.

Phillip Pullman’s: His Dark Materials trilogy was what I took to read when I last went overseas (see, three books: safe, sensible). And it was pretty good; maybe a little over rated; but strong female characters and interesting metaphysics. Kindof an antidote to Narnia for people who loved Narnia (like me).

Dave said...

something you havent read before

How about the Bible :-0

Apathy Jack said...

Yeah, I second the Bible - I'm working my way through the King James now, and it's hugely entertaining. (All the hellfire and brimstone really comes through with old English...)

If you want a long book, might I recommend The Stand, by Stephen King? It's pretty much your usual King, but you can't complain for length...

If that's not your style, how about The Corrections by Johnathon Franzen? Long book, and very well written. (Also enormously depressing, but well written...)

STC said...

Anything by Stephen Baxter, but particularly "Coalescent"

Or else, Catch22 by Joseph Heller. It IS truly the best novel I've ever read.

jarrod said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jarrod said...

[reread my earlier comment and realised that typographical errors destroyed some of the sense of it...]

There are definitely strong female characters (one of the main protagonists in particular) in the Baroque Cycle, so it passes that sniff test I reckon.

And it's really historical fiction written with a sci-fi sensibility - with featured cameo from period scientists (e.g. Newton, Leibniz and others), royals and politicians. But with plenty of swashbuckling nevertheless. And like I said, they're big books.

Other than that I second Apathy Jack's nomination of the Stand - though I would have said it's better than your average King novel...

PaedsRN said...

Can I just reinforce Terence's suggestion of "The Dispossessed"? I think it is her best work, one of the best SF novels ever written. Also stc's right about "Coalescent", though the sequel was disappointing.

John Crowley's "Aegypt" is weighty, for those long flights!

Just by the by, I've added spanblather to a new repository of NZ blog links housed at



Trouble said...

Science-fiction and fantasy with a lefty-feminist twist is my specialty.

Tad Williams does good transcontinental-flight sized SF/F - War of the Flowers is a standalone novel, unlike the rest of his work. It stands out from most of the rest of the genre by having top characterisation (including the female characters), plus a pretty revolutionary take on the usual fantasyland aristocracy.

Lois McMaster Bujold's lighter, but also very good. Most of her books are published as anthologies these days - Young Miles or Cordelia's Honour are good places to start.

Katharine Kerr's a personal favourite of mine, but most of her books are multi-volume series. The Snare is a good exception - a story about a lost colony of Islamic fundamentalists and their nomadic matriarchal neighbours.

span said...

Wow, thanks for all the suggestions!

Ok, have to cross off list because already read:
- Nickel and Dimed (excellent!)
- The Dispossesed (also v good)
- His Dark Materials (all read, less than a year ago, enjoyable although I thought the third one dragged on a bit)
- The Snare (would have been perfect, but...)
- Catch 22 (hilariously good, but not long enough for here to Dubai)
- The Bible (sucks to be you Dave ;-), although I must admit I've never finished it, I always get bogged down in Leviticus)

The other suggestions are fabbo and I am adding them to my shortlist.

I'm also considering that Suzanne Norrell book, whose title escapes me - thoughts anyone?

At this stage if I'm leaning at all it is mostly towards jarrod's Baroque Cycle suggestions, or ed's Dragons of a Fallen Sun - I've long heard that the first few Dragonlance books are very good indeed.

Basically I think what I'll end up doing is taking a list of these suggestions (and a few others I have) to Hard to Find and seeing what seems hefty enough and what is available for the smallest amount of dosh :-)

Terence, I know what you mean about the One Book Policy, but last time I went overseas I took several long books from a series and then got bored with it all part way through and had to lug them home again. And I feel that flying Emirates is an insurance policy against boredom due to the screens in the back of every seat ;-)

Psycho Milt said...

The author of the Baroque Cycle has a similar kind of story written earlier that's a one-volume effort, called Cryptonomicon. I read on my last trip home and it was great. Not so good on strong female characters as the Baroque Cycle though.

Maria von Trapp said...

If you want to take 5 paperbacks (a series) that probably equals the size of something big and thick, then you must take the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency set by Alexander McCall-Smith.

Bloody great.

Also The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Oh and take the Employment Relations in NZ Journal. It's not very thick!

Apathy Jack said...

Span, those screen in the back of the seats would have been a marvellous time filler if the slightest turbulance didn't make them malunction and bugger up whatever you were watching. (Of course, I wasn't on Emirates...)

I can't say enough good things about Maria's suggestion of The Lovely Bones, or indeed Lucky, Sebolds autobio, which I finished today. However, neither of them are long enough to last you until Dubai...

Grace said...

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers. Anything by David Eggers but that's his best.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

From the Corner of His Eye, Dean Koontz

Teeth of the Tiger, Tom Clancy

The Strength To Love, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

(you've probably read them all or they've already been recommended but they're my favourites).

span said...

Oh yes I've heard such good things about The Lovely Bones, that definitely goes on the list.

Thanks for your suggestions too, Grace - I'm not going to take the risk that I'll hate Atlas Shrugged, but otherwise I'll add those - haven't read any of them!

jarrod said...

Do you mean Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Suzanna Clarke, by any chance?

Haven't read it but have it's been highly recommended by people whose opinions I respect...

llew said...

Ok, I haven't any suggestions that aren't made above, but one tip that I found useful when I was travelling, and it works with MVT's recommendation... instaed of one heaving MF of a book, take a number of shorter ones, that way you can jettison them when done & reduce reduce your load.

EG, while travelling to & around France, I read all 5 of the Dumas Musketeer books (only Richard Lester's films with Michael York do them justice). Just left them wherever I was when finished.

GeorgeDarroch said...

I'd reccomend (qualified by the fact I haven't finished yet...) the new translation of Don Quixote by Edith Grossman. The book is pretty long 1200 pages in two parts, is a great read and relatively funny, and is pretty seminal in the history of literature. It's been pretty interesting so far, and the only reason I havent't completed it because I keep getting distracted by more pressing work. Sigh. And it's still relatively cheap ($27 from whitcoulls)