I'm not one of the people getting on a plane this holiday season, but the last time I flew I carried along the marvelously designed "Checking In/Checking Out," a book that contains two long-form nonfiction pieces about flying. Read Christopher Schaberg's "Checking In" while holding the book one way; flip it over and read Mark Yakich's "Checking Out."
Independently published by Schaberg and Yakich under the imprint NO Books, "Checking In/Checking Out" serves as a model for a new kind of short-run publication: the little book. About 5 by 6 inches, small enough to tuck into a jacket pocket or a purse, it's easy to carry, doesn't take too long to read, and is quite nice to look at.
And if you carry it on a plane, you don't have to turn it off.
Just being physically convenient would be one thing, but these pieces are well-crafted, engaging reads. Parts of them were previously published in the New York Times, Narrative magazine, the Millions, Brevity and Propeller magazine.
Schaberg tells of working at the airport in Bozeman, Mont. The airport was small enough that his duties included checking in passengers, loading baggage, de-icing planes, cleaning planes, dealing with lavatories and conveyer belts. Pretty much everything. Schaberg writes:
I often thought of loading baggage as a game of human-scale Tetris. Usually each 50-passenger flight that I worked would require two standard size luggage carts full of roller bags, snowboard carriers, ski bags, Pelican cases, octagonal metal film canisters, long plastic fishing rod cylinders, and hard-sided suitcases. Occasionally there would be a kayak, or a casket....
Instead of losing the game when I could not fit a piece in place, usually I just ended up with a badly bruised shin, pinched fingers, crushed toes, or a hard-sided golf case collapsing onto my head as I waited for the next bag to make its way up the belt-loaded conveyor.
On any given day, I would go through this routine several times throughout my shift. After a while, loading baggage didn't feel like a game anymore. It felt like work.