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Strangers on a Plane: Awkward Conversations about Books

May 29, 2013 | Mollie Hawkins

Everyone has a favorite place to read a book.  If I happened to define myself as a “normal” person, I might say I loved to read books on the beach. Or in a big comfortable chair in a library, or in bed with five or six of my favorite cats, or in a coffee shop surrounded by the hipster-elite, sipping on a cappuccino.


Not so much.


Real talk, guys. I’m going to admit that my favorite place to read is on airplanes. It’s like reading in a hotel room with the air conditioner on full blast, only the air conditioner is a jet engine and strangers are all up in your personal space. And sometimes the flights are sold out so you have to touch butts with those strangers for several hours, each of you battling over the armrest and pretending your butts aren’t touching. Believe me when I say it makes for a very interesting place to then wrestle a book from the bag shoved underneath the seat in front of you, plop it on your lap, and soar into the sky while the person next to you tries to gauge what kind of mental illnesses you suffer from because you are reading something titled Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls or Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.


 Tiddles takes to the skies.


Because I will always sit next to the person reading a Nora Roberts book, and they are always super stoked about their Nora Roberts book, and they are so excited to see that, Hey, you like to read books? I like to read books! Let’s have an hour-long discussion about Nora Roberts! Or my favorite Sookie Stackhouse book!

It always starts so innocently, and I always get my hopes up. I love to geek out about books; you guys know that about me already. So, when a complete stranger taps me on the shoulder and goes, “What are you reading?!” while we coast at 35,000 feet, my little heart just skips a beat, and I open my mouth and unleash a verbal assault on the poor sap sitting next to me. They’re never quite ready for it. This happened recently on a trip to California.


Poor Sap: Oh! What are you reading? I love books! We have an entire library in our house! It’s wall-to-wall oak with a ladder and everything.


Me, showing my copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: It’s the new Sedaris! And it is hilarious. I’ve been laughing all morning. He has this one essay where he talks about unintentionally killing baby sea turtles and then one where he talks about colonoscopies not really being all that bad. And he also talks about flight attendants “crop dusting” people. I don’t know how he is so funny.


Poor Sap: Oh.


Me: So ……. What do you like to read?


Poor Sap: Well, I don’t read. It’s mostly my wife. She just loves Nora Roberts. And Danielle Steel. And what’s that other one …


Me: Is it a female author?


Poor Sap: No, no … a guy. His books are turned into movies.


Me: Nicholas Sparks?


Poor Sap: Yes! How did you guess?!


Me: It’s my super power.


So it goes.


And then, on the return flight from California to Birmingham, I had finished the Sedaris book and was starting a new one. I was sitting next to a very polite and unfortunately large middle-aged woman that smelled like oranges. Her eyes lit up when she saw me grab the book from my bag and prop it on my knee. It was Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.


Lady: Oh my! It’s so refreshing to see someone reading a real book!


Me (surprised): Oh! Yeah! Well, I just finished reading one of his other books a while back and I’m pretty interested to read this one. It’s typically the one everyone goes to first, but the other one was really great and all about his fucked up relationships, road trips, and famous rock n’ roll deaths, and this one is all about the distorted pop culture in America, and …


Lady (confused, pulling out her Nook): I just meant, a real book. Not an eReader.


Me: Oh.


Lady: I just started reading this great John Grisham book on here. You would love it.


So, another thing I’ll tell you is that while flying the friendly skies, you should always have a pair of headphones around your neck. Especially if it’s your favorite place to read. Because you’re going to embarrass yourself when you forget that titles involving sex and breakfast cereals might make someone want to regret their decision to share their buttspace with you. It’s easy to end an awkward conversation by excusing yourself and listening to Radiohead on full blast to drown out the sounds of jet engines and disgust.


So, I guess my point is that I love to read on airplanes. It feels like getting away with something. And I can actually read and not be distracted by the Internet or a marathon of Arrested Development. And there’s always the excitement and hope, like a kid running down the stairs to see what Santa left under the tree, that one day I’ll sit next to a 75-year-old lady that likes to drink whiskey and read Murakami. I’d be happy to share buttspace with her. She can even have the armrest.


Mollie Hawkins is a barista in Birmingham, Alabama.












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