February 4, 2010
Reading for planes, trains, and automobiles
by Dennis Johnson
“Where you do your reading, and how much unbroken time you can give to it, will arguably shape your experience far more than does the difference between screen and page. And as cable and the web colonize our homes, it seems to us that the best reading is increasingly done in transit–for better and for worse.”
Or at least, so say the editors of The Millions in a survey that asks contributors to its Facebook page “to make recommendations for three modes of transportation: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”
Under “automobiles,” for example, “Garth” says
Though my wife and I like to read aloud to each other on long trips, The Lannan Literary Foundation podcasts are a recent discovery I’m pretty enthusiastic about: lengthy readings by writers like Deborah Eisenberg and Samuel R. Delany, followed by intelligent discussion with peers like Ben Marcus and Junot Diaz. We parcel them out like rest stops.
Under “trains,” “Sonya” says
I like the Russians for train travel. When you’re watching the natural landscape, the largely uninhabited regions of a country fly by in flashes, it just feels right to be reading stories that take place over the great land mass of Mother Russia. For a long trip, Dr. Zhivago; for, say, the DC-New York Metroliner, Chekhov‘s “The Steppe” in both cases, the land journey is also the journey of the soul.
And under “planes” comes our favorite answer — “Edan” says
When flying, I always want something short enough to read cover-to-cover (in addition to a novel, a fashion magazine or gossip rag, and a book of jumbles, crosswords, or soduku). On my last few flights, I’ve brought a volume from Melville House‘s Art of the Novella series. I’ve written about Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra here. I can also recommend Customer Service by Benoît Duteutre, about a man with cell phone issues who just wants help from a goddamned human being. It’s an appropriate read for when you’re flying through the air in a magical bullet, and you’ve just been forced to pay for a bag of peanut m&ms (a.k.a., dinner) with your credit card because cash is no longer accepted.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.