Make Mine an E-Book: How I Travel in 2018

By Robert McGarvey

A contributor to, for business travelers

Used to be – as recently as a decade ago – I’d always lug a book with me on every trip and, usually, it was a book I wanted to read but hadn’t for lack of time, I thought. And where do I have time? On flights – a x-country jaunt is good for 5 to 6 hours of interrupted reading.

I don’t do that heavy lifting of analog books anymore but I still subscribe to the belief that perhaps the best use of a flight is as a reading session.

Picture me in 2009 – into the carry-on would go maybe Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, a thick book, at least a pound. Or maybe Finnegans Wake.

I carried the latter a lot and, you know what, I still have not read it.

What I learned is that in packing for a trip my reading ambitions generally outstripped my realities. That’s why I often found myself popping into an airport newsstand and buying, say, a Parker (Spenser long has been a favorite) or a Tartan noir novel or any noir set in Los Angeles.

After a long day in meetings or at a conference I just did not have the intellectual energy to plunge into Sartre’s meandering thoughts – not even Kierkegaard’s, whose writing I sometimes packed. A nasty bit of noir was just the ticket however. And a lot of same can be read in full even on, say, a Chicago to LA flight and, absolutely, on anything x-country.

But now when I fly I have it both ways, the heady intellectual stuff and the lighter weight reading are both available to me and I do it without paying any sort of weight penalty.

E-books are the answer.

In my case that mainly means Kindle – which I have on a Nexus 9 slate, a Pixel 3XL phone, a Kindle Fire, and an iPad Air tablet. I have a few books downloaded to Google books and that app is on those same devices. I’m not a fan of Apple’s iBooks mainly because I only have the app on an iPad and have no interest in buying more iOS devices.  Apple’s walled garden approach doesn’t work for my reading. Kindle, which seemingly runs on everything, is just the ticket.

On Kindle, Amazon tells me, I have 1087 books that run a gamut from Heidegger’s Being and Time and Clifford Rosenthal’s Democratizing Finance, a history of the community development credit union movement, through probably a dozen Spenser novels, a like number of Nero Wolfe mysteries, and a large number of Graham Greene novels. Mixed in there is T. S. Eliot’s Complete Plays, Milkman (the Booker winner this year), and Gangland Boston, a romp through the history of organized crime in Beantown.

Of the 1087 probably I have not read one third.  Probably there’s another 100 that I read but no longer recall the plot (early Spenser novels, some Chandler, some Hammett). And there are some I couldn’t tell you why I bought (“The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”).

I have another 30 or so in Google Books, including Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (!) and Joyce’s Ulysses.  There’s also Marx’s Capital, Moliere’s plays (in English), and a Morimoto cookbook I have no recollection buying but I’m glad I noticed it and will remember to flip through it on an upcoming flight.  But, no, I can’t explain what’s in the Google library. Much of it probably predates my decision to standardize around Kindle because that makes it all simpler for me to read what I want no matter what device I have with me.

The bigger point is: no matter my mood, or energy level, there are books that I have that will amuse and entertain and quite possibly inform me on a plane ride.

A word of warning: you have to actually download the book to the device to read it. E-books require a little advance planning. It doesn’t matter if I downloaded a book I want to read to my Nexus slate. If I brought the iPad on this flight it has to be there. If I’ve forgotten, I remedy with a download via a cellular hotspot at the airport before boarding. (I don’t recall ever downloading an e-book via GoGo but I try to use that service sparingly, not so much to save money as to be kind to my blood pressure.)

Oh, and if I’ve forgotten my reading glasses I can just toggle a bigger font to read. How cool is that?

Nope, I don’t have nostalgia for the years I brought analog paper books. Nope.

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