Come Fly With Me

Many long haul flights have left me with two obsessions: my pursuit of the Perfect Travel Outfit followed closely by my search for the Best Ever Plane Read. I’m about to fly a long, long way in a couple of weeks and I am hoping I will be in line for some good plane read suggestions as a result of this blog.

Never one to keep things simple however, I have over time, created a set of draconian requirements with regard to my plane reads. First up, the book must be bought at an airport outlet – buying at Scorpio’s before I leave is cheating. No mention whatsoever must be made of plane crashes or even plane adventures. And the writing must grab me from the first sentence – this is a book that is going to have to compete with fidgeting fellow passengers, pilot announcements, in-flight entertainment systems and regular small trays of fiddly food.

Even with all those restrictions, there have been memorable successes and at least one dire failure. I count India Knight’s My Life on a Plate as a resounding success – any book that can make you laugh when you are in emigration flight from one country to the next must be good.

Nigel Marsh’s Fat Forty and Fired cheered me up at  Adelaide Airport at 2am after numerous flight delays and the news that I myself had just been made redundant. Deborah Moggach with These Foolish Things gets several gold stars after keeping me well entertained on a flight from Cape Town to Heathrow. On the other hand The Shack by William P. Young made me want to fling myself, screaming, out of the plane in mid-flight from Sydney to Johannesburg and is high on my list of Worst Books I Have Ever Read.

I picked up my most recent successful travel read at Bangkok Railway Station and started to read The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill on the long, freezing cold, air-conditioned , underfed but scenically stunning train trip to Chiang Mai. I love all things Thai and almost every part of that holiday last year was perfect. But one day I woke up and over yet another strange Thai breakfast, I finally cracked and said to Greg: “If I do not get to eat real bread sometime to-day,  I fear I may start behaving badly”.

So he went cycling and I followed Sarah Coursey of Papanui’s directions to The Blue Diamond Cafe. Full to the brim with aging and soon to be aging hippies, the Blue Diamond Cafe bakes its own bread, washes its salads in bottled water and smells of real coffee and wafty sandalwood incense. My internal organs gave a little cheer when I spied barrels of bread rolls that screamed out Wholewheat, Organic and Heavy. In this lovely environment, I settled down for a feed and a read.

And it was only then that I realised that Colin Cotterill actually lives in Chiang Mai. I allowed myself a moment’s optimistic fantasy that he would see me and come across to sign his book. Regrettably that did not happen, but it is a cracker of a little read and I don’t know why he isn’t at least as popular as Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotse in Botswana. In fact Ramotse and Dr Siri should get together and make us all happy.

Very soon I will be standing outside a newsagent at Sydney airport, gearing myself up to enter and choose the perfect long haul read. Think of this as the holiday equivalent of  the Posh Report versus Claims Returned. Which will it be? Only you can help.

49 thoughts on “Come Fly With Me

  1. Michael A 6 July 2010 / 9:24 am

    For a more leisurely read (and to move you on from all this fiction) try Alain de Botton’s “The Art of Travel” or in fact any of his wonderful books – full of moments to make you stop and think about your world in different ways.

    • robertafsmith 6 July 2010 / 10:28 am

      I love Alain de Botton’s writing, have you read A week at the airport : a Heathrow diary / Alain de Botton? That would be my dream job!

      • Michael A 6 July 2010 / 12:55 pm

        Haven’t read it but it’s on the list…I see he has a new one on Work…must add that to the list as well!

  2. Jill 6 July 2010 / 9:31 am

    My worst experience of in flight reading revolved around a long overlay in Hong Kong where the jetlag allowed me to purchase a book that I had already read… I now settle for buying several cancelled paperbacks from the library sales table thus thwarting any guilt if they are duds and I have to ditch them along the way.

    • robertafsmith 6 July 2010 / 2:18 pm

      I have such a tradition of buying plane reads – each book now reminds of that place and that trip. I am ashamed to say I have yet to visit the library book sale – must add it to my list of things to do.

  3. Valerienl 6 July 2010 / 9:34 am

    I always LOL when I get on a plane and everyone has an airport book. I almost ROFL’d, but the flight attendant frowned at me. The books are always big fat tomes and if you follow the reader across three continents, they don’t get past chapter two. My strategy is to by a really skinny book, (not a M&B) a collection of short stories or a reprint of my favorite author. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Josephine Tey and Jasper Fforde have accompanied me across the ditch and half way round the world on more than once.

  4. robertafsmith 6 July 2010 / 10:37 am

    I also avoid very large tomes as the seating space in Economy is so limited. There is only space for your legs or a large book and not both at the same time! I thought of you when I wrote this blog – I knew you were the person who would LOL!

    • Michael A 7 July 2010 / 11:25 am

      Is this the perfect excuse to buy a Indle or iPad or one of those other electronic readers? The Christchurch library has a range of electronic books for free download you know…

      • Michael A 7 July 2010 / 11:26 am

        Damn – Kindle…can’t edit posts, mumble mumble…

  5. Donna 6 July 2010 / 2:18 pm

    I’m loving What the dog saw by Malcolm Gladwell. Could be a good travel read as it is compiled of articles.

    A great range of subjects too – so far, the original copywriter queens who invented phrases like “Because I’m worth it”, ketchup and the definition of taste, the telemarketing genius of the Veg-o-matic …

    • robertafsmith 6 July 2010 / 3:21 pm

      That sounds good – no need to follow a plot either. I will have it on the list that I will be clutching as I enter Sydney Airport Book Store.

  6. helen 6 July 2010 / 9:03 pm

    Hey..I don’t think you can beat a Deborah Moggach, do you want me to see if I’ve got one you haven’t read?? I’m following all your other replies with great interest looking at the suggestions…

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2010 / 11:08 am

      I know, I am in a list making frenzy here. I think we have “done” Moggach now, I don’t think there is anything of hers that we have not read.

  7. Karen 6 July 2010 / 9:19 pm

    Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes from a Big Country’ & ‘A Walk In the Woods’ proved to be the perfect reading material when sitting in Economy on yet another ‘long haul’ flight a few years ago.

    My fellow passengers were perhaps not so enamoured with my book choices… uncontrollable outbursts of laughter emanating from an unknown travelling companion making it almost impossible to fall into a relaxing slumber!!

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2010 / 11:11 am

      Those are both excellent suggestions, but I have read both of them. I believe he has a new book out – do you know what it is?

      • Karen 7 July 2010 / 12:30 pm

        I believe it is called ‘At Home’ and involves looking at various rooms in his house in Norfolk where history can occur in the most unlikely places.

  8. Allison 6 July 2010 / 9:42 pm

    Was about to suggest, at the risk of blowing what remains of my intellectual credentials, the Penny Vicenzi I blushingly confess to be reading at the moment. Called The Best of Times it opens with a cracker of a prologue involving a massive road accident (safely on the ground so we’re OK there) which is going to touch the lives of the huge cast of characters. All pretty stereotypical so easy to keep track of. So far, so fabulous! Downside is it’s 750 pages so fails the leg space test.

    Also just finished the new Helen Dunmore, which was riveting but does have harrowing bits. What about the new Ian McEwan? That was a true LOL for me!

    Btw suddenly been reading all over about Colin Cotterill, who was completely new to me. Obviously the word has gone out.

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2010 / 3:04 pm

      The Vicenzi is out on 3 counts, I will save that up for an at home read. What does LOL mean to you? (Remember I don’t yet text) – is it Laugh Out Loud or Labour Of Love or Leap of Luck? Isn’t his new book something to do with climate change – how oh how does he make that interesting? Lots of great suggestions here, but I need something more lobotomised – remember I am the person who had her passport stolen from her, say No More1

      • Jin 7 July 2010 / 3:20 pm

        If I can just add my two cents here….
        if you think that LOL is anything but Laugh Out Loud, you are, as they say, SO last century! (or so I have heard!)

      • Allison 7 July 2010 / 7:54 pm

        Yea I know, climate change not a barrel of laughs right there. But wait there’s more . . There are a couple of set piece encounters, particularly one on a train, which are genuinely hysterically funny.
        But here’s what you really need: an iPad! Are they available yet in NZ? Can’t wait to lay my hands on one for travel reading. Solves the problem of what to do with the pile of light holiday reads you don’t want to shlep back home.
        Otherwise, have you encountered Stella Rimington? Former MI5 head now writes pacy but believable spy novels with interesting women.

      • cloudy5 12 July 2010 / 2:23 pm

        I always thought until my 12 year old scornfully disabused me that it was Lots of Love!

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2010 / 8:10 pm

      An iPad – are you crazy? Are you prepared to give lessons over copious cups of cappuccino? Remember I am the person who gave away an MP3 player and who still SMELLS books when she buys them.

      • Allison 7 July 2010 / 8:20 pm

        It’s true! I’m a book in the hand person myself. But I find I’m being seduced by the idea of digital books for travelling. Just think of the possibilities: change your mind at the touch of a button. And no more lugging of books you have no permanent attachment to. And then there’re all those newspapers and journals . . It’s the future, my friend!

  9. Jin 7 July 2010 / 6:48 am

    Thank you for letting me know about your blog! How wonderful that I can get to smile at and enjoy your words again.

    I must add that the pursuit of the P.T.O., along with the apparently futile (for me) desire to “travel light” have constantly eluded me, and, like you, I have had ample opportunity to attempt to get that right. I don’t know how those women manage to look elegant and stylish on those long long flights – but that’s another topic.

    Not sure if you have mentioned him in a previous blog post, but everyone seems to be loving the Stieg Larsson trilogy. It took me till nearly page 90 to get into ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, but once there, it is rather absorbing. Not what I would usually read.

    I have also just begun ‘Little Bee’, which starts out grimly and heartbreakingly (what an endorsement for a light travel read!), but I like his writing, and I get the feeling it is going to be unputdownable.

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2010 / 3:07 pm

      Love Stieg Larsson but it fails the knee test. I am going to be visiting a 98 year old – so I will give grim and heartbreaking a miss as well. Keep the ideas coming though – I am compiling lists like crazy!

  10. Jeanie 7 July 2010 / 4:33 pm

    Oh Roberta this is lovely!! Just Lovely! I love the way you write. When I travel a book is MY passenger. But I draw out the selection of what I want to read. I build up the expectation so by the time I am cuddled into my window seat (and it MUST be a window seat!!), the book curls out onto my lap like a petted cat to be stroked open. Now how do I select this “passenger” of mine! Well I talk to as many readers as I can for suggestions (that is why I LOVE your new Blog), I poke and prod the books on shelves at Borders, Whittcouls and Paper Plus AND I dive into the Internet (the first visit in the future will be your blog). And I always find a gem, a precious sandwich of words that keeps me enthralled for hours as I fly in no man’s land…

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2010 / 8:20 pm

      A window seat? You clearly did not come equipped with a Cheap Chinese Bladder like mine. I book an aisle seat to save the sanity of everyone around me.I agree though that there are some really great reading suggestions here.

      • Jeanie 20 July 2010 / 12:27 pm

        Gad I laughed and laughed and laughed when I read “cheap Chinese bladder). HAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAHA.

        No I seem to have an antique “Made in England: to last forvever” kind of bladder – I just love the “privacy” of a window seat – kind of climbing into my own bubble!!

  11. Christine 8 July 2010 / 3:22 am

    Roberta – I am impressed with this blog – you are moving on in our technological world! It seems an age since I travelled monotonous hours squashed in economy (does ANYONE have enough money to travel any other way???) but my last read was the second book in the Steig trilogy – lovingly and excitedly purchased at San Francisco Airport while I ditched 2 books lent from a colleague at work! I find it extremely hard not to be lured into the airport book shops and am beginning to purchase there as you do. I enjoy perusing new titles and trying to make a good decision. I LOVE this new blog of yours and will be keeping in touch. I badly miss book club and the views and opinions of everyone. There are some fantastic reading suggestions here!

    • robertafsmith 8 July 2010 / 9:27 am

      Hi Chris, CCL Blog is a great way to stay in touch with your old home town. What’s the library system like in Utah?

  12. Glynis 10 July 2010 / 12:30 pm

    Dare I suggest my dear friend Jodi Picoult ??!!! Fails the leg test, but I have to get you giving them a try one of these days…

    • robertafsmith 12 July 2010 / 1:43 pm

      Glynis, Glynis, Glynis, you know that for me Picoult fails far more than just the legroom test. Nice Try though!

      • Glynis 12 July 2010 / 7:49 pm

        I was just taking a chance !! I’ll never give up either …

  13. cloudy5 11 July 2010 / 3:09 pm

    Reading all these posts with interest as I too (hailing from Scotland)have spent many hours travelling throught the air in a piece of metal. The other question one has to ask is the “openability” of the book: if the binding is too tight, one can spend the whole flight wrestling to open the pages! And forget trying to eat and read at the same time, just not possible. I also find my attention span on planes much reduced and have to read something reasonably light in tone.

    • robertafsmith 12 July 2010 / 1:44 pm

      These are important points that you raise. I will be cracking the spines of books with impunity from now on in!

  14. cloudy5 11 July 2010 / 3:21 pm

    Oh and for travel clothes, try the bamboo pants from NZ Nature…
    http://www.nznature.co.nz
    They are super comfy, reasonably smart if worn with a black or white shirt/t-shirt and black jacket. (I live in [pointless]hope of being upgraded!)They can also fold into the size of a hanky, double as jammy trews if necessary and don’t crease. Also easy to whip on and off in a confined space, say no more…see reference to Chinese bladder…

  15. robertafsmith 12 July 2010 / 1:46 pm

    But are they warm enough? There is something about the name that suggests Tropical, and we are know that the aircon errs on the side of the Arctic on long haul flights.

  16. cloudy5 12 July 2010 / 1:59 pm

    These bamboo clothes are advertised as keeping you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm, and they do seem to work. I travel in the cropped ones which fold right down but are slightly unflattering (my husband and daughters call them “Mum’s floppies”) but comfort takes precedence over appearance when travelling (in my opinion!). Have several pairs, am happy to lend…
    Still mulling over good travel books. I have to say I pack book(s)beforehand as I never find a book I like in the airport shops.

    • robertafsmith 12 July 2010 / 2:41 pm

      Many of my appearance standards drop by the wayside when I fly, but cropped is not a good look for me (legs too short according to Trinny and Susanna!) and also come with the additional problem of how to keep the exposed bit warm. I will have a look at what is on offer at NZ Natural when next I am in town – is that the outlet on Cathedral square?

      • Glynis 12 July 2010 / 7:51 pm

        My dear, even long legged ladies don’t look good in cropped pants!!

      • cloudy5 19 July 2010 / 2:39 pm

        No they are a mail order firm
        http://www.nznature.co.nz
        who usually deliver within a week if they have the item in stock. There is a long version of these pantaloons which are good also.

  17. Glynis 13 July 2010 / 10:53 am

    I’ve come to the conclusion – after a sleepless night worrying about you and your dilemna ! – that what you need is a MAGAZINE or two !! Ticks all the boxes, and there are some really good ones out there ….. have a look at Mindfood and Notebook, and M2Woman …

    • Roberta Smith 13 July 2010 / 4:13 pm

      These are reasonable suggestions. Firstly I peruse the airline magazines and comfort myself with all the things I don’t want to buy, but then I need a book. Books tide me over from one place to the next and are a comfort when my mother is watching reruns of The Bold and the Beautiful at full blast (bless her).

  18. Dean 13 July 2010 / 2:32 pm

    I just sit and stare on planes.

    • Roberta Smith 13 July 2010 / 2:39 pm

      That is creepy!

      • cloudy5 19 July 2010 / 2:42 pm

        Mmm no I know what he means! It’s that strange feeling you get after about 10 hours up in the air that you’ve always been there, will always be there and there is no other life….

  19. Mette 7 September 2010 / 8:00 pm

    Just discovered what seemed to be the perfect travel pants; not bamboo. Made in S. Africa (banana-palm?) – with high, soft, ribbed waist. Bought 2 pairs, for upcoming international flight and travel in Italy. Only trouble is, as the waist is so loose, it all snakes down with each step I take until I’m walking with my legs far apart to keep it all from ending up round the ankles! Tried strapping a belt round waistband, with no success. Perhaps the Italians won’t notice.

    • robertafsmith 8 September 2010 / 1:01 pm

      Trust me Mette, they will! Maybe you can buy a nice soft Italian leather belt to hold the whole show together. I must say I fancy a pair of banana palm pants whilst flying by the seat of my pants!

    • cloudy5 8 September 2010 / 2:57 pm

      mmm, lovely picture…maybe walking as if affected by “Made in China” bladder! I like the sound of these, barring the loose waistband part! A new elastic might help?
      Flying through the air seems like an easy option compared to earthquakes at the moment…yours shakily!

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