The journey from Miami to Melbourne is about 25 hours door to door. That is, getting to and from the airport, going through security and customs, air time, layovers, and so forth. I usually watch movies on flights, but I also like to read. I always carry books with me, either Kindle books or paperbacks. Here are some great books for a long flight. These books take at least eight hours to read. I’m keeping tearjerkers off the list because crying hysterically on an airplane isn’t cute.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman, 8 hours
American Gods blends Americana, fantasy, and mythology. Ex-convict Shadow Moon has just lost his wife and his best friend. With his life in pieces, he accepts a job from the mysterious and beguiling Mr. Wednesday. Together, they embark on a road trip like no other. Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than it should be.
American Gods explores what happened to the gods that immigrants brought to America and explores the idea of the rise of new gods as the objects of what we worship changes. This is a interesting and fun novel.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, 9 hours
This is the beautiful classic story of Jane Eyre, from her childhood into adulthood and her love for Mr. Rochester. What is so lovely about this novel is that the story is told by Jane, not about her. We see her grow, become self aware, and the unfolding of her moral and spiritual sensibility. She explores classicism, morality and religion, gender, love, and atonement. The novel contains Gothic and Romantic elements.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, 12 hours
This magnificent novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters: Fantine, a beautiful working-class woman abandoned by her lover, and her daughter Cosette; the ex-convict Jean Valjean and Javert, the fanatic police inspector intent on recapturing him; Marius Pontmercy, a young student and revolutionary; and the Thénardiers, a family of criminals and street urchins. Les Miserables is a work of moral philosophy. It’s about law, religion, justice, redemption, grace, and love.
Les Miserables is not easy to read. It was published in 1862 and elaborates on the history of France and the architecture and urban design of Paris. More than a quarter of it is devoted to essays that argue a moral point or display Hugo’s encyclopedic knowledge and do not advance the plot. But consider that this novel is still with us and has seen numerous adaptations for the stage, television, and film. There’s a reason it’s so enduring. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair called Les Miserables one of the greatest novels in the world.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, 13 hours
If you’ve ever looked up inside a European cathedral with awe and wondered how such a magnificent structure could have been built, this novel is for you. Set in the middle of the 12th century, The Pillars of the Earth is an epic, historical novel about the building of a Gothic cathedral in a fictional town in England. It follows an idealistic master builder, a a dogmatic but compassionate prior, and an unscrupulous, ruthless bishop. A number of resourceful, independent women play important roles as well. This book has everything: social upheaval, political intrigue, ambition, greed, bravery, dedication, mystery, revenge, and love. It is a remarkable novel and I don’t have enough praise for it.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 14 hours
Set in late-nineteenth-century Russian society, Anna Karenina is the tragic story of a married aristocrat/socialite and her affair with the affluent army officer Count Vronsky. A parallel story within the novel follows Konstantin Lëvin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry the debutante Kitty. The two stories explore opposing ideas about love, marriage, family, and the lifestyles of the country and city. The novel also explores the themes of hypocrisy, society,and progress.
Like Les Miserables, this is not an easy novel to read, but it’s worth it. Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, and Faulkner declared it flawless. In a 2007 Time poll of 125 contemporary authors, Anna Karenina was voted the “greatest book ever written.”
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 18 hours
This young-adult series of three books explores a post-apocalyptic world where a highly-advanced metropolitan city rules oppressively over the rest of the nation. Seen through the eyes of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, the Hunger Games is an annual event in which children are forced to compete in a televised battled to the death until only one is left. Written for young adults, The Hunger Games is easy reading, but it’s thought-provoking and full of action. Each novel takes about six hours to read. You might be able to squeeze all three of them in.
What books do you recommend for a long flight?