Books are radioactive. They must be, because apparently I glow in the dark when I open one. There is something about sitting down with a book that makes me visible. From space. Look! You can’t miss me. I’m the one who went off by herself into a room, closed the door, and is trying to read. At least–that’s what I thought I was trying to do. To everyone in my vicinity that knows me, a book is a Bat Signal, frantically begging for rescue from reading the book that I purposely picked up to go read. Knowing I’m likely to be interrupted will often keep me from picking up the big books, the ones that are gonna need me to pay attention. When I really need the time and space to fall into a book, I have to find the perfect place to hide in plain sight. For this, I crave the company of strangers. And for that, I need an airport.
I really love airports. I realize I am the president, founder, and only member of that club. I know everyone else hates them, because I can hear everyone articulating all their hate while I am standing next to them at the airport. People standing in the line for security complain about the line for security. People not in first class complain about not getting their first class upgrade. People getting their luggage searched because they packed a scimitar cushioned by fireworks complain about getting their luggage searched. I don’t understand these people. I love the energy and purpose in an airport, that sense of suspended animation that comes from being in a parallel world that’s part aggressively overpriced jewelry kiosks, part cutting-edge art exhibits, and part uninhibited daydrinking. But what I love most about airporting is the sustained reading time it affords. Of course, this only works when I am traveling solo.
You: what do you want for your birthday
Me: a roundtrip ticket to Newark
You: you want to go to Newark?
Me: no! I just want to fly there
Orville Wright: those bastards took my scimitar
Packing books for travel in a car is easy. Just fill up the trunk (and camper top) with every book you own and you’re done. Flying is tricky though, because you have limited packing space converging with an ever-present threat of delays. The thought of being stuck without anything to read is enough to make me rashy. This anxiety drove me to prepare for any flight with ridiculous overpacking of reading material, hauling one or two Main Books along with three or four objectively ranked Backup Books. (Then I’d buy a paperback when I got to the airport. Just in case I didn’t look obsessed enough.) I could barely fit my nonessential items like money and underwear in my bag. Musculoskeletally speaking, I wasn’t doing myself any favors.
Doctor: you’re developing what we call Book Hump
Me: oh no
Doctor: yeah we usually only see it in successful, pretty people
Doctor: here’s some cream for your rash
Books have personalities. Some books don’t mind if you stop and start them a million times. They are the mellow morning deejays of your reading list, happy to let you grab a few words whenever you have the opportunity. That’s not what you want at the airport. You need a book that will boss you around from the second you crack the cover, demand you bring it a latte and some coconut water, and completely take over your entertainment schedule. In short, you need a diva. I figured this out one cross-country flight when I picked up my #3 Backup Book, In Cold Blood, instead of my #2 Main Book. In Cold Blood had been sitting around my bookshelf forever, but I’d been avoiding it because it had that “required reading” aura. Once I was buckled in and had paid close attention to the safety presentation, I idly flipped it open to the first page to prove to myself it wasn’t worth starting, and that was it. I was mesmerized. I could have been sitting next to the Rockettes doing their Christmas show on that plane and I would not have known it. Next thing I knew, I was on the last page and the plane was landing.
Me: aviation is miraculous
Wright Bros: you think we invented flying so you could read
Wright Bros: you are bad at epiphanies
Truman Capote knew a thing or two about divas. He was already a famous writer and literary personality when he published In Cold Blood in 1966. The book’s combination of curated journalism and fiction-style prose was a sensation and it’s considered a classic today. In Cold Blood documents the murder of the Clutter family in rural Western Kansas in 1959. It opens with the last day of the Clutters’ lives and ends with the executions of their killers. The meticulously researched motivations and machinations of everyone involved with the crime give the book the gravity of truth while Truman Capote’s shifting narrations and ruthlessly apt descriptions lift the story into something larger. It examines the capriciousness of the American dream and the banality of evil, and it won’t tolerate being in the same stack as all those cheap paperbacks you brought, because it’s a STAR. I’m still mad I can’t read it again for the first time.
When I am at the airport by myself with a diva book, I don’t care how long anything takes. Truman Capote taught me the art of the long game. I’ll get there when I get there and I’ve got good company. Hell, if the book is really good, I want to sit at the gate. It’s sick. I KNOW. But for sure, it’s not such an obsession that I carry around a plane-shaped voodoo doll that I stick pins in to cause minor mechanical delays. HAHAHA! Because that would be crazy! Even if it does buy me an extra hour of uninterrupted reading time! Of course, pulling out a plane-shaped voodoo doll can cause some misunderstandings.
Orville: that woman over there is jabbing pins in a vibrator
Wilbur: maybe she’s mad at it
Orville: I don’t even want to know what it did
Wilbur: flying to Newark just gets weirder
Orville: how long you think before i get my scimitar back