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Books to whittle away 25 hours on a plane?
February 1, 2012 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I need some well-written and very suspenseful books to take my mind off of a 25-hour flight. Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" is the ideal book, but alas, I've already read it. I also need two-person travel sized games.

I am a bit picky about my books - they absolutely must be well-written, and in this particularly, addictive. In addition to The Secret History, I also loved Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski (if you haven't read it, you should!), Possession by A.S. Byatt, Ian McEwan's Atonement and Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

I found all those books positively addictive and could not put them down, partly due to their level of suspense. What else should I read?

Also, if anyone has games for my husband and I to play on the plane that won't annoy passengers next us nor take up crazy amounts of space, list them below please!
posted by zoomorphic to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 123 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Special Topics in Calamity Physics" comes to mind... longish, suspenseful, deals with serious stuff, but in a cartoonish sort of way...
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:40 AM on February 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


Are you open to nonfiction? I could not put Operation Mincemeat down and literally found it so suspenseful that I kept worrying that the British intelligence plans would fail and the Nazis would win.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:41 AM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Deliverance, by James Dickey. Whether you've seen the movie or not. The movie is a pretty good representation of the novel, but James Dickey is primarily a poet and the power and economy of his writing chops as applied to prose are the real draw here. One of a very few books that I've read in one sitting as an adult.

Butcher's Crossing, by John Williams. This book is about a wide-eyed city boy who decides he wants to go on a buffalo hunt in the mid 19th century, so that he might obtain some wisdom or earthly experience or some such. Naturally, things don't go as planned. The novel has a headlong velocity, stark brutality, and sparseness of language that is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy, only it was written in 1960 or so and Williams was a better writer.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:44 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Definitely The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters -- you won't be able to put it down.
posted by susanvance at 8:44 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. (And while just doing a search, it came up on this list of "page turners," which might give you some more ideas.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:52 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


An Instance of the Fingerpost, which I picked up at an airport on a whim, and then could not put down for my entire vacation.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently read Death in the City of Light and couldn't put it down.
posted by naturalog at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2012


Tana French's series of books about Irish police detectives - In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place - suit your criteria perfectly. They're atmospheric and ever so absorbing. (The Likeness in particular; it's also thematically quite similar to The Secret History.)

Oh, and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, if you haven't already read it.
posted by jeudi at 8:56 AM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


I love all of those books too (esp. Fieldwork!) Have you read any John Irving -- A Prayer for Owen Meany, perhaps? It's not suspenseful, but deeply engaging. Also, if you haven't read We Need to Talk About Kevin, that was another unputdownable book.
posted by caoimhe at 8:56 AM on February 1, 2012


If you can lay your hands on anything by the unjustly forgotten Leo Perutz, you'll be set.
posted by Iridic at 8:57 AM on February 1, 2012


Oh -- and how could I forget Hunger Games??
posted by caoimhe at 8:59 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once I started The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler, I did not put it down until the end.
posted by troika at 9:06 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could try City of Thieves, by David Benioff, which completely absorbed me for a few days.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:06 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel you might like Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. (Her new novel, State of Wonder, is supposed to be good, too, but I haven't read it yet.)
posted by scody at 9:08 AM on February 1, 2012


I second the Tana French books. Room, by Emma Donoghue. I also found Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell compelling, but only once I got 1/3 of the way in. (I enjoyed it from the start, but it was putdownable at first.)
posted by jeather at 9:10 AM on February 1, 2012


Herman Wouk. Start with The Winds of War.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:15 AM on February 1, 2012


"See No Evil" by Bob Baer is a very good read especially on a long flight.
posted by RedShrek at 9:17 AM on February 1, 2012


I was totally absorbed by Neal Stephenson's Reamde this past week. I love everything he writes, so YMMV, but some of his books can be a slog in parts, and this kept rollicking along.
posted by purenitrous at 9:24 AM on February 1, 2012


Games, some first thoughts (you can look these up for pictures and reviews at boardgamegeek):
-Set - cards (some people love it, some hate it)
-Hive (heavy but awesome)
-the new compact version of Hey That's My Fish (space will be a little tight but it's another great game)
-Blokus has a two-player version, though I am not crazy about it
-Lost Cities - cards (again space might be a bit tight)
-Games similar to Waterworks might work - tile laying games - but they can end up taking a fair amt of space

If you say what kind of games you like, I might be able to recommend more closely tailored ones.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:29 AM on February 1, 2012


Devil in the White City is technically non-fiction, but it's a gripping read so I think it qualifies.

Seconding Operation Mincemeat and An Instance of the Fingerpost.
posted by ambrosia at 9:29 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have you considered finding books about this distant place to which you are traveling?
posted by mareli at 9:37 AM on February 1, 2012


Have you read Lev Grossman's "The Magicians"? It made me think of Tartt, only with magic.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:38 AM on February 1, 2012


The Secret History is one of my five favorite novels. I'm so pleased to hear of another fan.

Two books sort of tied in my mind with it are "The Club Dumas" by Arturo Perez-Reverte, and "The Alienist" by Caleb Carr. They both lean more historical mystery than college suspense, but were similar page turners for me. I also think that Carr did a great job with character development, similar to Tartt. If you preview "The Alienist" and decide you like it enough to read further in the series, there's a second (much thicker) book called "The Angel of Darkness." Perez-Reverte tends to write in the same universe, and I also adored "The Flanders Panel" but wouldn't recommend beyond there for a casual (non obsessed fan) reader.

It's been quite awhile since I read them, but I remember not being able to put down Mark Frost's two books, "The List of Seven" and "The Six Messiahs." I've mentioned them elsewhere on Ask when recommending books related to Sherlock Holmes. Most friends I've given them to have devoured them.

One of my classic favorites, truly a novel that changed my reading as a young adult, was The Eight by Katherine Neville. (However, do not touch the sequel with a ten foot pole.) Amazing mystery crossing decades and continents with good intrique.
posted by librarianamy at 9:53 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


According to my blog, The Pedantic Flyer, there is no such thing as "a 25-hour flight." I think about sixteen hours is the maximum possible, presuming you're using a commercial airline and staying on Earth. That said...

Stephenson's Reamde was remarkably good, if a little conventional. It does seem like he wrote it specifically for movie-make-into-ability sometimes. Definitely well-paced.

Elmore's The Amateur American is a nifty un-conventional thriller. I swear he's trolling reviewers at some points. Again, it has a pace that makes you keep reading more than you mean to.

And on that note, they're not thrillers, but I find Irvine Welsh novels (Trainspotting, Glue, Porno, etc.) to be very good this way: a crazy pace that keeps me reading several hours after I meant to be asleep.

As for other time-killers... well, it's hard to beat a puzzle book (crosswords, suduko, whatever) in terms of time-killing ability per square inch of luggage space.
posted by rokusan at 9:57 AM on February 1, 2012


For games, I like Hive. It ought to work on an airline tray table.
posted by exogenous at 10:10 AM on February 1, 2012


Tom Robbins' Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex are two books that got me through tedious trips.
posted by neushoorn at 10:25 AM on February 1, 2012


I read almost all of Roberto BolaƱo's The Savage Detectives on two long plane-flights.
posted by Kattullus at 10:30 AM on February 1, 2012


Life of Pi and We Need to Talk about Kevin actually made me glad i was trapped on a plane so I could read them obsessively.
posted by nanhey at 11:00 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ian Bank's Complicity was a one sit read for me. Rather short though.
posted by shownomercy at 11:00 AM on February 1, 2012


If this is an international flight, then quite often (depending on airline and which type of airplane) the little screen on the back of the seat in front of you with on-demand movies and TV will also have simple games you can play with other passengers. I've never tried to play 1-on-1 with a specific person, but played a number with random passengers. It was a little too slow moving for me to stick with for long.

There's travel Scrabble and Munchkin. Uno and Gin don't take up a lot of table room either.
posted by K.P. at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2012


Second "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" (oddly enough, this immediately popped into my mind, and I was surprised to see it as the first answer!) and "Room" by Emma Donoghue.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2012


Donna Tartt also wrote The Little Friend, which is excellent.
posted by kengraham at 11:12 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit: An American Legend, in the "page-turning nonfiction" category.
posted by bettafish at 11:15 AM on February 1, 2012


I would vote for Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. One of my all-time favorites -- totally absorbing family drama, beautifully written, with all sorts of secrets that unravel gradually.
posted by cider at 11:26 AM on February 1, 2012


Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian kept me up all night. Dracula! And history! But not really a vampire book!
posted by cyndigo at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak made me do very similar emotional somersaults as I did when reading Atonement. Just beautifully written too.
posted by mochapickle at 11:50 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


If Operation Mincement (first response above) is anything nearly as good as Agent ZigZag by the same author, that would be a great combination. It's hard to believe this stuff is non-fiction. I didn't know about Operation Mincemeat, but I'm grabbing it today for my flight this weekend. Thanks!
posted by webhund at 11:54 AM on February 1, 2012


Charles Palliser's The Quincunx is super long and super, super addictive. I got to the point 3/4 way through where I had to hide the right hand page so as not to accidentally read what happened next.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon. Couldn't put it down til after I'd finished reading it through the second time. The first reading was for the suspense; the second to marvel at how he put it all together. Brilliant entertainment.
posted by Corvid at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not exactly suspenseful, but The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is pretty page-turning. Also The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Chabon.

If I have to think off the top of my head of one book that really gripped me, though, I'd say The Shining.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:10 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you haven't read (or considered) the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the rest of the series, you definitely should now, for a long airplane ride. The story is told in the third person, but it changes in perspective mostly from Lisbeth Salander to Mikael Blomkvist (and sometimes a few other characters), so that creates a tension in every chapter where you just need to know what happens next. I read half of book #2 in a 3 hour flight, so depending on how fast you read, you might need to take one, two, or all three with you.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2012


The Secret History is one of my favorite books. The last thing I read that I liked was The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht - not suspenseful, but it certainly held my attention.

Seconding Set for a good two-person game.
posted by naoko at 1:05 PM on February 1, 2012


Secret History is one of those endlessly readable books, are you sure it won't stand up to a re-read? Otherwise, I heartily suggest The Pirate's Daughter, a fast moving, well written, intriguing, fascinating story. Anyone I hand it to reads it in one obsessive overnight session, and raves about it.
posted by thylacinthine at 1:16 PM on February 1, 2012


The Rekjavik Murders series by Arnaldur Indridason. Addictive!
posted by t0astie at 1:25 PM on February 1, 2012


Wow. Some the answers here include books that have actually put me to sleep. Taste is an individual thing, all right.

Anyway, as a fellow lover of The Secret History, here are some books I've recently found incredibly gripping:

* "We Need to Talk about Kevin" - Lionel Shriver
* "A Visit from the Goon Squad" - Jennifer Egan
* "The Shadow of the Moon" and "The Far Pavilions" - MM Kaye (historical fiction set in India)
* "Outlander" - Diana Gabaldon
* "Zelda" - Nancy Milford (biography of Zelda Fitzgerald...really was a page-turner)
* "The Long Goodbye" - Meghan O'Rourke (devastatingly sad memoir about a mother's death)
posted by artemisia at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Based on your tastes: I second The Little Stranger (my review) and think you might enjoy Byatt's The Children's Book (my review). Also suggest picking up a copy of Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles (which Tartt loves) when it's out in March (or, if you're going to the U.K., pick it up over there).
posted by maud at 4:44 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, wow, so many great responses. Thank you! So far, I'm getting "The Little Stranger," "An Instance of the Fingerpost," "Fall on Your Knees," Tana French's books, "Room," and "The Alienist."

I'm currently halfway through "The Tiger's Wife," but thanks for the recommendation, naoko.

And yes, I will be reading guidebooks on Thailand, and yes, I meant to read fiction about Thailand as well, which is how I picked up Fieldwork half on accident and couldn't put it down. We also have "Bangkok 8" and "Windup Girl" at the ready.

As for the duration of the flight, it's 14hours to Tokyo, a 6 hour layover, and then 5 hours to Bangkok. Sorry for the confusion!
posted by zoomorphic at 7:22 PM on February 1, 2012


We have similar tastes! Recent favorites have been A Visit From the Goon Squad, Freedom, the Marriage Plot
posted by murfed13 at 7:47 PM on February 1, 2012


I've read and liked those books, so here are my recommendations, for what it's worth: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Susskind; The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco; Out by Natsuo Kirino; Stoner by John Williams; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson; Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Chin. If you loved Atonement, perhaps you'd like The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst--I was recommended that based on my adoration of TSC though I found it wanting. I recently travelled from California to Asia and back, and that was my long read. Apologies if you've read those already and safe journey!
posted by peripathetic at 8:08 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absorbing reads I've enjoyed lately:

- Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote Room. I actually liked this one a bit more than Room, although it can be a brutal read.

- Enduring Love and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.

- Drood by Dan Simmons.

- nthing Tara French - great stuff.
posted by lucyleaf at 8:37 AM on February 2, 2012


Update: Tana French was a perfect recommendation, and I was completely hooked on In The Woods and The Likeness for much of the plane trip. I also loved The Little Stranger and Fingersmith, both by Sarah Waters. Instance of the Fingerpost, Marriage Plot and a re-reading of Lolita also figured into the list. A bonus is that once I was done with each book, I'd leave it at the guesthouse for others to pick up, so hopefully more people will find them later on!
posted by zoomorphic at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2012


Update update for posterity's sake! I recently picked up Gillian Flynn's new novel, Gone Girl, and wish it had been available when I went on this flight. It was gripping (literally, my hands were gripping the book's hardback cover) and so, so well-written.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:27 PM on July 22, 2012


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