What to Read on a Plane, or Which Pocket?


Which pocket?

I don’t travel much, but when I do I travel light.

So after I packed a couple of turtlenecks and a cozy sweatshirt/pajamas ensemble that I WOULD wear down to the hotel lobby when I couldn’t get the WiFi to work, I decided what to read on the plane.

The Nook was probably all I needed.

But what if the Nook broke?

“Maybe I should take this book?  Or that book?”  I asked my husband.

He didn’t know what I would like to read on the plane.

I have a big bag with many pockets.  I finally packed a mystery by Canadian writer Louise Penny, Still Life.

And I packed a Dorothy Sayers.

And I brought Cicero’s De Senectute (About Old Age), a Latin text with vocabulary and notes, because I know from experience that if pills (my first choice) fail Cicero WILL put me to sleep.

What I didn’t count on was reading Cicero on the plane.

Here’s what happened.

I was very bookish for four hours when a plane was delayed.

Then I got on two planes and read through the short flights.


What I read on my Nook.

In Washington, D.C.,  I was busy with my friend Ellen going to the Kennedy Center, the Folger Theater, and the National Gallery.  At night I blogged and read Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City on my Nook.

But on the way home I suddenly needed a mystery.

I needed it because I didn’t want to talk to my seatmate.

Do you have “grandkids?” This woman did.  If you do, please SHUT UP about it on the plane.  We’re bored, we’re Zero Population Growth, and we can tell from the sound of your voice that you’re bored, too.

Looking at the woman, who was probably my age, I thought, Oh no, TELL me you didn’t spend your vacation babysitting.

You’re in the prime of life.

For God’s sake, just go to Washington, D.C., New York,  or even Anchorage, Alaska.

No, she had flown to a faraway city so she could babysit for her children so they could go somewhere.

She sounded desperate. And so sad.

She might have been my friend under other circumstances.

But I was really tired.

And so I refrained from chat.

I reached for my mystery.

I knew what pocket it was in.

I could only find Cicero.

The mystery had sunk down to a pocket within a pocket.

And so I read Cicero.

Yup.  Flipping back to the notes and the glossary.

Cicero de senectuteCicero wrote this philosophical work in 44 or 45 B.C., and dedicated it  to his famous friend Atticus.  In the “dialogue,” Cato the Elder tells Scipio and Laelius that old age isn’t so bad.  He’s Stoic about it.

He tells them, “For to those who have no resources to live well and happily, every age is heavy.  But nothing that the law of nature brings can seem bad to those who seek all good things in themselves.” (Quibus enim nihil est in ipsis opis ad bene beateque vivendum, eis omnis aetas gravis est; qui autem omnia bona a se ipsi petunt, eis nihil potest malum videri, quod naturae necessitas afferat.)

It did make me feel better.

It was calming.

I’m not quite old yet, but soon.

And so I have time to do everything I still want to do.

Not that I have a list.

But I do seek the good in myself.

By the way, it’s LIVE LIKE A STOIC WEEK.  Go to the website for directions and read the Stoic Handbook.  I intend to read something by a Stoic later this week and post about it.

Maybe on Thanksgiving!

In Pious Memory margery sharpTHE BOOK I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT ON THE PLANE:  In Margery Sharp’s light comedy, In Pious Memory, Mrs. Prelude, the wife of a famous financier, survives a plane crash, but her husband does not.  Later, she is unsure if she has correctly identified his body; and she and her youngest daughter, Lydia, fantasize that he is still alive.  Lydia and her cousin set off on a bicycle trip to look for her father in France.  It is funny, though a bit Disneyish.  Perfect plane reading. Not very good, but entertaining.


6 thoughts on “What to Read on a Plane, or Which Pocket?

  1. If the last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism (sorry, Ben, but it’s not–the last refuge is philanthropy), the last refuge of most geriatrics is going on about recent surgery, THEN grandchildren. In each case, the motive is to have something to say, to be sociable, to be interesting. Unfortunately, when people who never bothered with the life of the mind get old, this is what happens to them. And of course, it happens second-hand to those sitting next to them on planes, standing close by at cocktail parties, etc. In such moments, Stoicism is definitely the way to go.


  2. Yes, I’m sure it IS natural. She and I were approximately the same age (she was a YOUNGISH gran), and she assumed her interests would be mine. My talk is no more interesting, and that is why I ended up with Cicero. I doubt she would have been any more interested in my trip.:)

    I have nothing to say at cocktail parties, alas!


  3. Glad you enjoyed it: What a great preview! I do hope to be able to watch this documentary. I need a little more style myself…I was wearing jeans and sweaters in Washington.


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