Because the TSA Won’t Ban Reading Until Someone Makes a Book Bomb

Posted on
Jun 21, 2010

It is my utmost pleasure to welcome back the brilliant librarian/historian/bookworm/femme fatale Mindy for our second installment of “Mondays with Mindy“. I’m incredibly lucky she agreed to write another guest post for the blog, because I don’t know anyone else with her name, and frankly, “Mondays with Mindy … with Geraldine!” sounds like an identity crisis.

All of the content to follow is Mindy’s, all typos and formatting errors are mine.


Dear Everywhereist Reader(s),

It’s my lucky day! Geraldine asked me back to talk about books again. But this time, we’ll gear the discussion toward the frequent flyer. You’re lucky, too! Nancy Pearl, the rock star of the library world, has already detailed her ideas of what makes for a great “carry-on book.” (Shut up. Do you have an action figure in your likeness? I didn’t think so.)

To sum: a good plane trip book has to be deep enough to draw you in and distract you for a good, long while. But it can’t be so freaking complex that you can’t set it down to let your neighbor use the loo. And it has to be compelling enough to hold you rapt, in the unlikely event you’re being harassed by fellow passengers and airline employees for your crazy leftist politics.  (Good job on the Swedish thriller, Geraldine. That’s the perfect airplane pick: plot-heavy, fascinating characters, crisp, clear prose.)

Sometimes I think there is nothing better than a good Law and Order marathon, I am still willing to admit that there is a time and a place for great works of literature (G.W.O.L.). The airplane, my friends, is not that time. Heading to Dublin? Struggle through Joyce in the privacy of your own home. Try Benjamin Black or Tana French for that atmospheric Irish in-flight entertainment instead.

Speaking of French, do not be tempted to peruse Proust on your way to Paris. May I be honest with you? It doesn’t make you look smart. It makes you look annoying and pretentious. And if you try reading Remembrances of Things Past next to Geraldine on a flight, she will be obligated to write a “Dick Move” about you. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Instead, may I suggest my favorite airplane read of the past year:  Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda? Or perhaps the latest book club darling The Elegance of the Hedgehog?  Or mayhaps Irene Nemirovsky’s posthumously published World War II story Suite Française. Or…you get the picture.


At the wacky Centre Pompidou in Paris. (Bonus: there's a library in there!)

Among my greatest reading regrets: attempting The Things They Carried and Gilead at cruising altitude. These modern G.W.O.L. will be forever lost on me. (“Blah blah blah…war sucks…Blah blah blah…pithy end-of-life reflections…Blah blah blah.”) As soon as you’ve been frisked by the TSA, you need to set your literati pride aside and remember that you are not too good for Stephen King or Jodi Picoult.

Speaking of Jodi Picoult, you know you’ve picked an airplane winner when the flight attendant tells you it’s her favorite book, and asks you to let her know when you’re done so you can talk about it. Such was the case with My Sister’s Keeper. I was en route to a funeral in South Dakota, so I just blamed my tears on the dearly departed instead of the family drama unfolding at 30,000 feet. You can do the same thing!

Mindy looking adorable yet again - at the bodleian

(At the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I read Empire Falls on the plane. I would have finished it on the return flight if it weren’t for this damn movie.)

Genre fiction and a lot of non-fiction categories often work well for airplane travel. (A caveat: if you’re even slightly anxiety prone, avoid books about disasters, even those with happy ends. Say no to Captain Sully’s autobiography. Say yes to Captain Underpants.)

While you’re driving, graphic novels are a big no-no. Trust me! But they are another great choice for the plane.


Chicks dig comic books, guys!

They’re fun, they’re fast, engaging, and they have pretty pictures. And they’re not just for kids anymore. I have it on good word that Geraldine loves V for Vendetta. I’m more of a Persepolis gal myself.


Rand only had eyes for a certain blue-haired gal, much to the chagrin of a certain green-eyed girl.

Anyhoo, when in doubt, let the words on the book covers help guide your selection.

Keywords to look for:







Stephen King

Vampire Zombies

Couldn’t Put It Down

Keywords to avoid:







Nobel Prize Winner

Outrageous plane disasters


There is only one book on this shelf I'd recommend to friends

There is only one book on this shelf I'd recommend to friends

Finally, I also recommend you always travel with one or two crowd-pleasing magazines on planes. Why? It’s nice to have some short, pretty pieces to flip through while waiting at the gate and during take-off and landing, when it’s harder to concentrate. I always find when I can’t silence the chatty Kathy next to me with my icy Seattle glare, People can usually do the trick.

When it comes to airplane reading, remember, the sky’s the limit!

Ever sincerely yours,


Mindy Van Wingen is a librarian, avid reader, and of above average height, for a girl.

Leave a Comment

  • Everywhereist

    Just so we’re clear, this post includes …

    – photos of Simpsons characters
    – My hubby’s book
    – mention of zombies
    – librarian action figures
    – discussion of graphic novels (p.s. – I loved V for Vendetta but I think the movie was far, far better)

    In short, Mindy, this post is awesome. I love you to pieces.

  • Mindy, none of us are too good for Stephen King. I’m glad you said it. 🙂 30,000 feet is not the time to decide you want to take a crack at Infinite Jest–not the time, not the place, and the weight of the book will make the plane list.

  • Everywhereist’s comic-book heresy aside (nobody liked that movie better than the Moore book), I second the bringing of pictorial fiction on airplanes. The trick is to find one that’s dense enough to last the whole trip. I’m fond of the DC Showcase archive collections (500 pages of black-and-white comic book action) and/or the Marvel Essentials series. If you don’t feel like hauling a phone-book sized comic collection, pulp/crime novels are also a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of the Hard Case series and not just because you can get two or three into most carry-on bags without compromising space.

  • Mindy you are the hippest librarian I know (well not really ‘know’ since we haven’t met, so I’ll say “heard of” instead).

    And while I totally understand recommending Rand’s book from the shelf above, I must add that I think that Wikipedia book would be a great one to take on a plane – I haven’t read it, but if it’s anything like the Wikipedia site, it should be full of lots of topics with short chapters for those of us with ADD, AND if you do wind up next to an annoying chatty-kathy neighbor, you can start spouting trivial factoids to annoy her right back. Interesting AND fun!

  • Everywhereist

    The Wikipedia book better have erasable ink. And lots of blank pages. 🙂

  • Mindy

    Yeah, awkward that Rand’s book ended up in that photo, huh?!

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