What to Read on a 15 Hour Flight?!

This summer, I headed to China and Thailand to visit my boyfriend and work as an English Camp teacher. My time in China was extremely eye-opening (for a variety of reasons) and I loved every minute of it. However, the traveling to and from Asia was brutal to say the least. For those of you that may not know, I live in Boston, MA. That makes me approximately 6,000 miles from my destination of Qingdao, China. I am twelve hours behind and basically living a day before them. If you have ever traveled across the world, then you know the pain and sleep-deprivation one is exposed to on such epic journeys.

Time is weird and I don’t fully understand it (if I can admit that without seeming uneducated or stupid), but you never really notice its importance until you’re suspended in some time vortex flying across over the world. I remember booking my flight and seeing the daunting number that indicated how long I was going to be on a plane – sitting with a barely reclinable seat, no internet , and stuck in a row with limited bathroom access. I was flying straight from Boston to Hong Kong: no stops.


I’m the kind of person who can barely sleep on planes. Instead, I slowly zombify and half watch whatever selection of movies are available, fidgeting endlessly and wasting the hours away. But for my longest flight yet – over 15 hours straight – I didn’t want to spend it uncomfortably shifting around and unintentionally annoying my neighbors. Cue: reading.

You’d think that I would have picked this choice ages ago, having traveled a good chunk in these last few years. But, nothing has ever been as intimidating as my flight to China. Sure, I’ve read books on planes and written some basic poems/stories. Yet, the flights only lasted up to 7 hours (and I have managed to binge watch series for longer periods than that – thank you, Netflix). Nevertheless, I just could not imagine myself watching whatever was available for that long, so I knew I had to find something else to do to stay occupied.

What I Considered When Choosing a Book

I’m a thinker by nature, so there was a lot of things I had to consider about the book that would sustain me for 15 hours. There are tons and tons of books out there, so this wasn’t an easy task. As I’ve shared before, choosing a book is a struggle for me; it takes me hours just to narrow down my search. But I knew there were a few things I had to consider that would make my search a bit easier:


1. I needed a book that would last me the entire flight.
Page length was a major issue in choosing a book. I’m a rather slow reader, so my options were pretty wide for book selections, but even I can get through a 300-page book in the time allotted. I needed something long enough to get me to Hong Kong. Although the chance of me reading for 15 hours straight wasn’t quite high, I didn’t want to take any chances. What if my TV screen didn’t work? What is my headphones broke? What if there wasn’t anything good to watch? What if, what if, what if…

2. I did not want a book extremely complex.
Because I would be confined to my seat for most of the flight (I was sitting by the window, which is both a good and bad thing), trying to focus on complex plots, deep analogies, and big words didn’t seem like the best route. Sure, it would keep me focused on something, but once that restlessness kicked in and I slowly drowned in insomnia, I knew I would regret my decision. Just imagine trying to read and understand philosophical concepts when you can barely move and running on “e.”alejandroescamilla-book3. I needed a book that wasn’t too simple.
From one end of the spectrum to the other, a book too simple would be a huge failure. A plot that required little to no thinking would lose my interest and I would be back to square one. I would also probably finish it quickly and have nothing else to do (if the TV didn’t work, headphone broke, etc.). Or, even worse for my frugal lifestyle, I would have to buy multiple books, which would be so bad if I wasn’t always tight on money.

4. I wanted a book that steered clear of anxiety-inducing issues.
I sometimes struggle with anxiety, and I knew that having an anxiety attack on a place would be the worst thing ever. Trying to stay in control of your emotions while they decide they have a mind of their own is hard enough, nevermind while you are in the middle of the air, cut off from the world, and trapped by the window seat. I’m not a nervous flyer, but taking precautionary measures is never a bad thing, so a book with a plot too intense, scary, or jarring was not the route I wanted to go.


5. I wanted a book that I would enjoy.
Of course everyone wants a book they will enjoy. But the scary part is choosing a book and not knowing if it will be enjoyable. I asked people to give me suggestions and I browed my Goodreads account to see if there was something I was willing to take a risk on. We are encouraged to not judge books by their covers, but I like to judge them by their cliff-hanging summaries on their backs. That’s the closest thing I can get to knowing if I will become engulfed in the plot and attached to the characters.

So, What Did I Choose?

Using these five points, I managed to narrow it down to two books that seemed long enough to keep me occupied on a direct flight from Boston to Hong Kong:

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo.

Harkness’s book is what I consider a “guilty pleasure” that I knew would keep me entertained. For me, it is the equivalent of a catchy pop-song (think Taylor Swift, whom I love). I knew I was going to enjoy it because I had enjoyed the first book, even though most of my friends thought me silly for wanting to read it in the first place. On the other hand, Choo’s book was a bit different. Suggested to me by Jessica and Gillian (lovely poets whom I’ve written about here and here), this one I knew would be right up my alley. Choo uses fantastical elements, a pinch of suspense, and a “love” story, all while a young girl tries to save her soul – literally. It wasn’t too insane or horror (though I love this genre), but still included ghosts and demons; I had to give it a shot.


I read both of these books during my flights to and from China, and I am pleased to say they were great choices for me.

What are some things you consider when choosing a book for a flight? Or, what are some books that you have read when traveling? Let me know!

Images: Danist Soh (2), Arnold Lee/Unsplash; Ryan McGuire/gratisography; Alejandro Escamilla, James Tarbotton/Unsplash.


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