Fiction: “Up In The Air” by Walter Kirn

When I finished How to Read Literature Like a Professor, I needed another Lunch Break Book. (I’m considering creating a tag/category for it, but honestly, I’m just too lazy.) My big bookcase was almost — almost packed up; all that remained were a couple of random titles and the Patricia Cornwell series (because … *shiver.* But guys, why are you surprised that not only did I pack them, but I then moved them into my new apartment? Seriously – have you all missed the memo about me being a masochist?) Anyway, this was one of those random titles, and I liked the movie when I watched it for Oscar!Watch (hence, the buying of the book in the first place), and I don’t know; it was another “HEY THIS WILL WORK” book.

First and foremost, I did not realize how different the book was going to be from the movie. Not much from the book survives into the movie. Oh boy — how am I going to explain this without spoiling both the book and the movie? I mean, should I do that, I think I win the title of Queen Spoiler, but believe it or not, that’s not a title I’m looking to have.

Okay, I think I figured it out. I’m going to do movie first, even though I haven’t seen it in two years. George Clooney played Ryan Bingham, a corporate Joe that’s made a name for himself in “Career Displacement Services” (or something), which essentially means he fires people for a living. But what he really jives on is his frequent flyer miles. Bingham spends nearly 20 out of 24 hours of every day either on a plane or in an airport, hotel, or rental car. He is speeding towards his goal of ten million frequent flyer miles, and the luxury that comes with it.

Until, that is, he himself is told he will be outsourced in the near future. Rather than firing people in person, the company he works for has decided to go with video-firings. Bingham feels betrayed, because this is happening just before he gets to his ten million mark.

In the novel, Bingham is hell-bent on getting to the one-million mark, but before his boss finds his resignation letter. He is over the whole firing people thing, and has a few different irons in the fire for the future: he has written a book, similar to Who Moved My Cheese?, a short missive that will inspire the masses towards individualism and achievement; he proposes to a mentor a line of merchandising and classes on the subject of his mentor’s teachings; and he’s angling for a position at the aptly-named MythTec, a consulting firm that is never quite explicated in the text. While all of this is going on, his little sister is getting married in Minnesota, he meets a woman on a flight to Reno who intrigues him — right up to the part where she practically stalks him.

What this book attempts to do, and almost succeeds, though in an oblique way, is — as one of the quotes on the back of the book state — show us that, by pursuing our goals, we may lose sight of who we are as people. I’m sorry — there are an awful lot of clauses in that sentence. Bingham is so focused — as I said, “hell-bent” — on earning his millionth mile that he loses part of his compassion. His other sister asks him to buy a flight for a bridesmaid with some of his miles; with the deadline fast approaching, he refuses, because his goal is more important than his family. He’s determined that that final mile is his reason to live — he doesn’t even want to fly anywhere on them, he just wants to achieve the status and then donate the miles to a children’s hospital, which could use them for sick kids and Make a Wish Foundation wishes. He has fake relationships in ‘AirWorld;’ people he sits next to on flights become his neighbors, his cohorts, his confessors. There’s an interesting passage where he asks some guy who’s frequently on CNBC about a stock mid-flight, and CNBC-Guy gives him some great advice. Bingham’s touched. But then that night, Bingham’s in a strip club with a client and sees CNBC-Guy getting a lap dance. It throws him, because AirWorld personalities become completely disparate from RealWorld personalities.

I liked the book. I couldn’t tell you right now if I’d ever read it again, but I like it enough to not sell it back to give it the chance. I do know that I want to rewatch the movie, and see if I can catch more differences, but damn Redbox and Netflix for both not having it readily available.

Which is why I’m rewatching Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows right now. (And all I can think while watching it is: Poor Lane.)

Grade for Up in the Air: 2.5 stars

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