When you are traveling by plane, a good book can help make the flight pass more quickly, distract you from an overly talkative guy down the row, and give you something to talk about once you’ve reached your destination. Here are eleven books that you might want to consider the next time you're packing your carry-on bag for a 3–6 hour flight.
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, The Dead Mountaineer's Inn
The novels written by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky from the 1950s to the 1980s took an everything-goes approach: open one of their books and you might find swordfighting on a distant planet, the fate of alien trash, or scientists under strange surveillance. The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn is their take on the locked-room mystery, which here involves conspiracies, an avalanche, and beings who may or may not be aliens.
Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth
Valeria Luiselli's second novel (and third book overall) tells the sometimes comic, often moving story of an auctioneer and his collection of teeth. Along the way, Luiselli riffs on art, literature, and city life; the result is a warm, deeply unpredictable, and very humanistic novel, with a fascinatingly memorable character at its heart.
John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
The works of John Steinbeck encompassed history, travel, and depictions of inequality. He also had a knack for capturing the dynamics of a group. Cannery Row, which focuses on a group of friends living on the margins of Monterey during the Great Depression, is a low-key triumph.
Patricia Highsmith, The Tremor of Forgery
Patricia Highsmith's stylish, impressively observed fiction never goes out of style; with recent film adaptations of her novels The Two Faces of January and The Price of Salt (the latter adapted as Carol), it's as good a time as any to delve into her fiction. The Tremor of Forgery, about a screenwriter who becomes embroiled in a series of mysterious events in Tunisia, is a great place to start.
Jan Morris, Hav
Hav is travel writing like you've never read before — in part because the place it describes doesn’t actually exist. This volume collects Morris’s two books on the imaginary nation of Hav, its location mysterious, which intersects known history in strange and unexpected ways. It's a fascinating and evocative trip, and one that leaves readers with plenty to ponder.
Donald Antrim, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World
Donald Antrim's novels run everyday life through a funhouse mirror; among his admirers are the likes of Jonathan Franzen and George Saunders. Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World is his satirical, sometimes violent, and frequently hilarious take on suburbia, in which the conflicts among residents of a neighborhood are magnified to an absurd extent.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time to Keep Silence
The roots of Patrick Leigh Fermor's short memoir A Time to Keep Silence come from his lifelong pursuits of travel and literature. In these pages, Leigh Fermor chronicles his time visiting numerous monasteries, and the way in which the practices he observed there affected his own art. It's a window into a world few will encounter, and an enlightening look at how silence can affect our own lives.
Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes
Kobo Abe's 1962 novel The Woman in the Dunes is an uncanny thriller with surreal imagery at its core. Its main character finds himself trapped in a bizarre, almost mythic situation in which his daily life consists of keeping sand at bay. At once a tense psychological study and a haunting allegory, this is a work that sticks with you.
Javier Marías, Bad Nature, Or With Elvis in Mexico
Spanish novelist Javier Marías's books have amassed a cult following in the United States, and a sizable one in his home country. This short book, about a screenwriter hired to work on an Elvis Presley movie in Mexico, is a great introduction to his taut, stylish, and frequently suspenseful fiction.
Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria
In her award-winning first novel, A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar brings the reader into another world. The novel follows a young man as he leaves his home for the first time. It’s an immersive experience, a ghost story unlike any other, and a chance to spend some time in an impressively imagined universe.
Leonard Gardner, Fat City
Leonard Gardner's novel following the lives of two boxers in Northern California gives a tremendous sense of their daily lives and routines. (Its 1972 film adaptation featured Stacy Keach and a very young Jeff Bridges.) Gardner movingly takes the reader through the highs and lows of both men’s lives, both inside and outside of the ring.
Val McDermid, A Place of Execution
At first, Val McDermid’s A Place of Execution seems to cover familiar territory: a period police procedural with a dogged investigator endeavoring to unravel a sinister crime. And, make no mistake, it does deliver on all of these things. But its structure takes it to unexpected and haunting places, and does so ingeniously.