Saturday, December 31, 2011


"Information" (c) 2011 J. Ryan Williams

Diagram genius Ander Monson wrote a really detailed and thoughtful review of Checking In / Checking Out over at Essay Daily.

Speaking of our little book, there are only about 20 copies left. Besides the handful Mark and I sent out to reviewers and friends, we've sold almost all the other 500 copies from the initial print run. (Okay, maybe we also guerrilla dropped a few copies in various airport bookstores around the country...) But the point is that there are only a few left of the original boutique edition. The next edition of the book will likely lose the unique size and get a different cover.

Semi-relatedly, I'm trying to get a hold of Monson's first chapbook, Safety Features, as I understand that it takes place entirely in airports. I've collected so many airport odds and ends since finishing my first book that I'm starting to sense a sequel on the horizon...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Recent & Current Things

Tarmac watching at O'Hare

Carolyn Kellogg wrote a very nice review of Checking In / Checking Out in the LA Times Books section.

And Nicole Sheets gave the book and Airplane Reading a kind mention at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Meanwhile, I've been experimenting with Twitter as a way to draw people to Airplane Reading, and I'm quite enjoying the formal constraints, as well as the aesthetic and philosophic possibilities nestled within the form's forced compression. I know, it's not like it's a 'new' tool or anything; but it's often intimidating to start into new media forms, and gratifying when they start to feel like you've got the hang of them. I've particularly liked playing with the photo-essay possibilities granted by Twitter, and I've been posting photos at Twitpic.

I'm also starting to rework my long essay on airport/aircraft seating, which I will be sending out to a journal for review in March. I'm starting this essay with a reading of the psychoanalysis of flight in the opening Claude Sylvanshine chapter in The Pale King. I'll be presenting some of this material at ACLA in Providence this coming spring, in a seminar on David Foster Wallace.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Me & Mark at MSY

Nate Martin of Press Street's Room 220 put together a great interview with me & Mark, about our little two-sided book Checking In / Checking Out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Time to Reconsider Air Travel

As long as we're in the mood for making open claims on behalf of sweeping change (if also without specific demands), here's my contribution:

It was a beautiful thing to see, aircraft climbing, wheels up, wings pivoting back, the light, the streaked sky, three of four of us, not a word spoken.

—Don DeLillo, "Hammer and Sickle"

In the above sentence from his new collection of stories, Don DeLillo aptly describes the sublimity of human aviation. But this story is about prisoners, who are on work detail cleaning up the tarmac of an Air Force base. Here, as in so many scenes in DeLillo's novels, DeLillo seems to be urging us to take the time to reconsider air travel.

With the announcement earlier this month that American Airlines will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it is time to reconsider air travel. On November 29 a New York Times article about the parent company of American Airlines, AMR, noted “AMR’s financial health has been eroding for years.”

Indeed, if we want to resort to metaphors of health, we are talking about an entire industry that appears to be afflicted with chronic financial problems. Based on the bankruptcy record of nearly all major airlines, it is demonstrably the case that flight is neither a sustainable nor an economically viable mode of mass human transit.

The accomplishments of flight over the twentieth-century were impressive, to say the least. The relative achievements over the first decade of the twenty-first-century have been regressive at best (e.g., multi-hour tarmac waits), and invasive at worst (e.g., full body scans).

Scott McCartney’s recent Wall Street Journal column “The Middle Seat” celebrated Singapore's Changi International Airport as “arguably the world’s most fabulous airport.” McCartney goes on to laud such features as “comfortable areas for sleeping or watching TV, premium bars, work desks and free Internet. A nap room is about $23 for three hours; a shower can be had for $6.” In short, what McCartney finds so alluring and “fabulous” about Changi are precisely the banalities of everyday life on the ground.

Why is it that we find this level of bare life so surprising (and valuable) in airports, as if we have lost touch with our showers and beds at home?

At the extreme end of this line of inquiry, a front-page New York Times headline on Saturday December 3 stated, provocatively, “Hot on the Trail of ‘Just Right’ Far-Off Planet.” Scientists, it seems, may be on the verge of discovering remote planets that lie within the “habitable zone.”

But wait: we live on one of those planets! We have airlines filing for bankruptcy on one of those planets, and airports that simulate ordinary life on one of those planets! Perhaps it is time to really reconsider all of our air travels. It may very well sound like an outlandish question, but what would it take to stop dumping resources and energy into mass air transit, and instead to reinvest in our lives on the ground, on this planet? It is a question worth taking seriously.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book ~ Alien

I saw my book for the first time today. What a weird feeling. It resembles an object from outer space. Vaguely recognizable, yet totally alien at the same time. Actually, it's rather like picking up a stranger in the baggage claim: the ambiance is completely familiar, but there's also the thrill of the unknown...

(I should say, too, that Continuum did a beautiful job on the book-as-object; in an age of electronic reading, it's very nice to hold a finely crafted paper book.)