Books In Flight: Nonfiction Reads For Your Travels

Penny Mann on May 11, 2017

FlightIn the northern isles of Scotland you can take the shortest commercial flight in the world - clocking in at about two minutes, including taxiing. On the flip side, almost literally, if you are traveling from New Zealand to Qatar you could very well be on the longest commercial flight, pushing 16 hours (no, thank you). While maybe not the shortest, nor longest flights around, chances are many of us will be clocking in some airtime in the near future, and while we are always hoping for friendly skies it is helpful to have a distraction or two ready. So, in the spirit of empowerment, here are a few ebooks (I recommend digital because… baggage fees - but you do you!) of the nonfiction variety to keep you company along the way.
For the short skip, or maybe on the layover - Based on my experience, these quick hops come with the little planes that my aunt affectionately called 'puddle jumpers' - I haven't decided if I prefer the maneuverability of a small plane or the cruise boat appeal of the big guys - either way, a mental escape is helpful. With an average reading time of about 45 minutes, Coda by Jonathan Biss is the authors intimate interrogation of musical expression and its ability to communicate the ineffable. If you have twice as long of a holding pattern, The Spy With No Name is a 90 minute short about Erwin van Haarlem, a Cold War secret agent whose stolen identity broke the heart of an innocent woman.
For the two hour flight - I think all flights should be two hours - it's long enough to feel like an accomplishment but not so long to require the awkward step-over-and-try-not-to-catapult-the-seat-in-front-of-you move to the restroom. Get Tim Attewell's Carry On: Stan Zuray's Journey from Boston Greaser to Alaskan Homesteader to occupy some time, and maybe strike up some inspiration - the memoir opens in 1960's Boston and takes you on a true adventure as you follow Stan Zuray's climb out of despair and into Alaska's frozen interior.
If you are looking for a lighter way to pass the time, Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas should do the trick. These are the stories of the world's female buccaneers, both real and legendary, who sailed alongside - and sometimes commanded - their male counterparts (aka: bad asses). Along with these captivating stories, the author looks beyond the stories and to the storytellers to understand how history changes depending on who is recording it.
For the long haul - No, we aren't talking Guinness record long… but let's say you're traveling to Spain (a girl can dream, can't she?) or some place just as delicious - Mary Jennings Hegar's Shoot Like a Girl will give you about four and half hours of inspiring, humorous, and thrilling reading about her experiences of and after being shot down in Afghanistan in 2009.
If you are needing 6-plus hours of distraction and you haven't already read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, take the opportunity to understand this powerful and important story about ethics, race and medicine - and who knows, you may be able to catch the movie on your return flight. If you have read Henrietta, Radium Girls is the true story of the women who were exposed to radium in our early stages of understanding how powerful the element was. These women's strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives. 
For more timed reads, check out this list of bestsellers based on reading times.


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