The Particular Joys (and Annoyances) of Reading on Planes
I love flying. I'd pick flying over driving long distances any day. Sure, the fact that it's faster and statistically safer than driving is great, but the real reason I love it is I get hours of uninterrupted reading time.
Well, usually uninterrupted.
This past weekend I flew to Mississippi for the wedding of one of my best friends and since it was only for the weekend I only brought two books with me.
For the most part, when I fly I bring a stack of books and proceed to power through them. First at my terminal, then on the plane, repeating the process if I have a layover, and no one talks to me. Most people understand that a person reading generally doesn't want to be interrupted, which I appreciate.
However, I LOVE talking about books and encouraging people to read, so if someone is genuinely interested in my book, I hope they'll talk to me! One guy at my terminal came up and asked me what I was reading and what it was about, so I gave him a brief synopsis of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte, he seemed interested, thanked me, and went on his way. It was a perfectly considerate interaction, one that I'd deem proper for getting a book recommendation without annoying the reader.
Later, I boarded my flight and ended up being seated next to another guy. He, too, asked me about my book, so I again explained What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. But I could tell by the vacant look in his eyes that he either wasn't interested in the subject matter or was among the particular breed of Southerners that just like to talk for the sake of talking. He asked me several other questions and a few minutes later I made a pointed move to nod affirmative or negative responses to his continued questions (not about the book) while attempting to read. Eventually, he stopped talking to me and seemed to get the hint.
Everything was fine until I finished that book and started another––Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. As soon as I pulled it from my bag he said, "What's that book about?"
I was trying to be nice and give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he did like to read and simply didn't care for reading about Appalachia and that's why he seems ambivalent about my first book. I assumed that he must like to read something, otherwise he wouldn't have asked me about two books. So I then explained Little Fires Everywhere.
When I finished, he said, "Yeah, I read a book once. Don't much like to read, myself."
It was at that point I was thinking to myself, WHY THE HELL ARE YOU ASKING ME ABOUT MY BOOKS, THEN?!
It's not that I'm rude, but rather that I believe there's etiquette to be observed if you see someone with a book. If you want to ask them about their book, keep it brief unless they invite you to continue the conversation and seem enthusiastic about doing so. I think this is something book lovers inherently understand like an unspoken golden rule of sorts: Respect the reading of others as you would have them respect your reading.
I also recognize that other book nerds may not feel as I do. Some folks who are reading may not want to be talked to at all, even if the person is a fellow book nerd asking about their book.
But if there's one thing this interaction taught me, it's not that I shouldn't expect to read peacefully on planes––I should be able to and I'll continue to do so to the best of my ability. Rather, for me, this interaction reinforced the importance of community around the things you love. Most of the people in my life are just as passionate about books and reading as I am, or they at least accept and respect the enthusiasm I have for it, so I don't often encounter people like the guy on the plane who just fundamentally do not get it.
Even with the risk of running into weirdo non-readers who just like the sound of their own voice, I still like to read on planes. I didn't even mind when my return flight was delayed for an hour because I had a book in hand.