Faith in society’s literacy restored in a short flight

Many passengers on an airplane fall into the category of shallow readers, by Logan McDonalds standards. Celebrity gossip magazines and teenage vampire romance novels seem to be at the core of societys reading habits.

Courtesy photo: Bach Tran/Flickr

Many passengers on an airplane fall into the category of shallow readers, by Logan McDonald’s standards. Celebrity gossip magazines and teenage vampire romance novels seem to be at the core of society’s reading habits.

Logan Mcdonald

I’m flying from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. It’s a three and a half hour flight, which means there is plenty of time to read.

In the seat-pocket ahead of me, I’ve got plenty of choices: Skymall, Sky magazine, a menu, a safety procedures brochure and the instructions to the barf bag. Several people around the cabin are reading. Some have books from the “Twilight” series. One middle-aged man is reading “The Gospel According to Dan Brown.” At least a dozen women are skimming In Touch, OK! and Us magazines.

In the context of what I see other passengers reading, the barf bag instructions look equally stimulating.

New York Times best sellers and celebrity gossip magazines are the bread and butter for airport kiosks and bookstores. You’ll also find the same fare in Hy-Vee checkout lines and gas station aisles.

It makes sense for products most palatable by a mass audience to be the most widely available. They are bound to sell and will make money. The creative writer in me wants to discount these books as garbage, these magazines as mindless entertainment and these instructions as postmodern masterpieces.

I pull Elie Wiesel’s “Night” out of my carry-on, and start reading. I am immediately engrossed in the book. Blunt descriptions of life in concentration camps is not light reading. I put down “Night” with a feeling I’ve read something substantial, and I still have an hour before we reach Los Angeles.

By now, a lot of people are sleeping, but a few reading lights are still on. Across the aisle, a middle aged woman is flipping past pictures of celebrities in swim suits and pauses to read blurbs about a new couple or Rihanna’s latest fashion faux pas. The mustachioed man next to me has fallen asleep with his book of dogmatic criticism of popular literature illuminated on his lap.

It seems like literature has become just a pastime, something to do between eating dinner and watching TV. There is no search for deeper meaning when you reading where Justin Bieber ate lunch. There is no mental stimulation in reading, but to help put you to sleep.

There’s good reason for Cliff’s Notes versions of great pieces of literature: Most people don’t care about the deeper meaning that can be found in writing.

I don’t necessarily want everyone to be to be nose-deep in a book at all times, or even hope to expect 1 in 10 college students to crack something that isn’t assigned literature. I just think that it would be nice to ask someone if they’ve heard of “Fight Club,” and get a response that involves more Chuck Palahniuk and less Edward Norton. 

In this age of “c u l8t” [sic] literacy, teen vampire romance as an allegory to biblical narratives just doesn’t mean what it used to.

It’s 10 days later, and I’m flying from Minneapolis to Des Moines. So far, in four airports and five connecting flights, I had been looking at the covers of books with the hope of finding a fellow literati. And so far, I have found enough copies of “Twilight” novels to rival most middle schools. It’s enough to shake my faith in the future of my writing career. The girl next to me is flipping through her complimentary Sky magazine. The stewardess tells us to return our seats to the fully upright position and return our tray tables to the up position, stowing away all luggage as we prepare to descent.

As I’m stashing my bag under my seat, I notice the man sitting in the aisle behind me is reading a book. It’s “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite novels of all time.

My faith in writing has been restored, even if it is only temporary.