By Michael Slezak
Updated July 20, 2007 at 11:51 PM EDT

There’s something about airplanes — maybe it’s the altitude, or the rubbery chicken, or the $5 cocktails — that warps my entertainment standards. Where else but at 30,000 feet would I submit to watching A Cinderella Story or plugging my headphones into a “Hits” channel where I enjoy only one out of every seven songs?

Similarly, when it comes to airplane reading, I don’t want anything emotionally or intellectually challenging; I far prefer a crime thriller or a global suspense caper that I can finish (and perhaps forget) by the time my round-trip journey comes to its end. Heading to a wedding last weekend in San Jose, I had all of three minutes at the airport book shop to pick up a potential trashterpiece and get to my gate. On a whim, I grabbed James Rollins’ Black Order — mainly because the raised gold lettering of the author’s name was an indubitable indication of “quality,” and also because the illustration of a dood in a hood made me think the 500-page tome might contain “mystical” elements. Well, let me just say that unlike a couple of recent airport stinkers (like Sandra Brown’s thudding White Hot), Black Order (part of something called the Sigma Force series) turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It was far-fetched, to be sure, and Rollins’ love of cliffhanger chapters had me occasionally groaning, but the writing was crisp, the pacing was lively, it made my flight fly by (sorry) in what seemed like minutes, and I may have learned a little something about quantum physics in the process. At this rate, I might just have to log on to Orbitz and book myself a trip somewhere — just to have an excuse to pick up Rollins’ The Judas Strain.

Now it’s your turn. What’s the last book you picked up at the airport — and was it any good? The fate of your fellow readers’ vacations hangs in the balance!