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Luminous Airplanes

3.22  ·  Rating Details ·  162 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
A decade after the publication of Haussmann, or the Distinction, his acclaimed novel about nineteenth-century Paris, Paul La Farge turns his imagination to America at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

In September 2000, a young programmer comes home from a festival in the Nevada desert and learns that his grandfather has died, and that he has to return to Thebes, a town
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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William Clemens
Oct 16, 2011 William Clemens rated it did not like it
Let's be honest, I didn't finish this book. At 120 pages in, about 50%, I had no idea what I was supposed to keep reading for.

A computer programmer in the doldrums of the dot com burst finds out his grandfather is dead and goes back to the town he summered in as a child. His boyhood 'friends' are there, the brother is now weird and the sister, of course, is mysterious and attractive.

I didn't even get to the point where boy sleeps with girl, though it felt painfully obvious to be coming. The book
Sep 07, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it
The narrator of Luminous Airplanes leaves his going-nowhere life in San Francisco and returns to an isolated village in the Catskills to clean out his grandfather’s house, assessing his life and re-meeting characters from his youth. From this simple plot, La Farge weaves a cunning and compelling tapestry that addresses most of the big issues: love, death, memory, madness, family, nature, power, race.
Feb 03, 2012 Gabriel added it
Shelves: 2012
"This story is done. It may not be done well but it is done enough, which is the point of writing history: not to exhaust the past, but to know it well enough that you can move on." Or to enclose it, to give it shape and commonality, to rip oneself out of it; only an I, not any particular I, an expanding universe of I, getting further and further away from itself.
Feb 17, 2017 Agatha rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steven Buechler
Nov 13, 2011 Steven Buechler rated it it was amazing
Even though the novel is only 240 pages long, it is a complex and thought provoking read. A kind of intellectual "puppy chasing his own tail" tale.

Page 13 Lost Things
Thebes was never what my memories made it. My grandmother was a good cook but she loved her garden too well, and served us vegetables that only a mother could love, worm-holed lettuces, cracked tomatoes, small starchy beans. My grandfather was frequently in a bad mood and spent whole days in his workshop, sawing and pounding some h
Ben Bush
Something pretty hard to put your finger on about this book. I read some of the online half of the book prior to reading the print version which I think affected my reading. The online version is in kind of rearrangeable modular chunks and it's in turn easy to picture that sections in the print edition could be similarly reconfigured. It seems like if you put each of the sections that fell under a same title heading "Regenzeit", "The Great Disappointment", etc. each one seems designed to functio ...more
Jan 16, 2012 melydia rated it did not like it
(unabridged audiobook read by Charles Carroll; 8.25 hrs on 7 discs): A 30-year-old man returns from what sounds a little like the Burning Man festival to learn that his grandfather has died and he missed the funeral. It’s the end of the 20th century and the internet bubble has burst. Facing dwindling employment in San Francisco, he journeys to the tiny town of Thebes, NY, to clean out his late grandfather’s house, where he spent his summers growing up. While he’s there he runs into childhood fri ...more
Ryan Mac
I'm sure there was a plot somewhere in this book but it was hard to find. The basic premise: At the end of the 20th century, a 30 year old computer programmer living in San Francisco finds out that his grandfather passed away. He travels back to Thebes, NY (in Norman Mailer's car apparently) to clean out the house because the rest of the family doesn't want to deal with it. Thebes is a tiny town where he spent his summers growing up. In Thebes, he runs into the brother and sister who lived next ...more
Jul 18, 2012 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Lazy wannabe Bill Gates'ers
Shelves: 2012
Meh. This book follows a feckless San Franciscan programmer, fond of ironic t-shirts, as he travels back to his grandparents house in upstate New York to dismantle and organize their house after the grandfather dies. There's a sometime girlfriend kinda involved in the beginning of the book. A childhood neighbor revisited once he gets back to New York. There's the complications of past family secrets and finding out truths. All of these ideas seem very intriguing and have the potential to build a ...more
Tito Quiling, Jr.
From the back cover, the teaser for this book is admittedly able to hook the potential reader in, with its promise of traveling back to one's hometown, tracing your family roots, and discovering something that is highly, technologically beneficial for the future of most First World countries.

With four (4) chapters, To some extent, even if the main setting called Thebes harks back to the place which ushered in the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece. Following the main character--a computer engineer tr
Chuck O'Connor
Feb 09, 2012 Chuck O'Connor rated it liked it
There is a haunting in this book that creeps upon the reader as we witness the narrator attempt to understand his past within a Millennial malaise. I liked this book. La Farge's voice toggles between clumsy memoir rendered by someone suffering Apserger's Syndrome and juvenile breakdown wrought with embarrassing but honest emotion. I also like how he seeds metaphor of flight and failure throughout that heightens the narrator's quest without ever pointing to the symbolism he is creating. An added ...more
Dec 03, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it
For those of you who have chided me about finishing every book I start, this is my vindication. This book had a somewhat slow start and I wasn't all that engaged, even though the beginning takes place in Silicon Valley, where I lived for fifteen years. I kept going, though, and found that the farther I got, the better the book was. The narrator at the beginning was a bit too rudderless, buffeted about by others. Somewhere toward the middle, things started to come together and his passivity no lo ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Megan rated it it was ok
I don't know why I stuck with this book. I don't know that it's the book's fault that I didn't like it. I think it's me. I don't do well with books that spends most of their time meandering between internal issues.
This could have been another Wild by Cheryl Strayed--person in their mid twenties tries to find themselves when they leave the environment they know, strike off alone, amongst stories of their past, comparing themselves to friends, and becoming entangled in relationships. But it wasn'
Jul 02, 2014 Wileyacez rated it it was ok
This one just didn't pan out for me. I actually stopped reading with the finish line in site--just meandered away and did some other stuff for a bit before pushing through to the end. The main character was so darned flaky! Even taking into account the fact that he never knew his father doesn't account for such a directionless character. This guy is living in San Francisco, but gets a call to come back to Thebes, NY to clean out his dead grandfather's house--which really seemed promising. He mee ...more
Aug 15, 2014 Roger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose this book because (a) I read a good Economist review and (b) the Author's father was my 11th and 12th grade English Teacher. I love LaFarge's writing style- entertaining, rewarding and vivid. The characters are clear and easy to follow and there were never any issues putting it down and picking it up again. As a computer nerd myself I could empathize well with the post-tech-bubble reanalysis of his childhood and youth. There was a lot of excitement which burst when the bubble did. La Far ...more
Olivia Pepper
Dec 21, 2011 Olivia Pepper rated it really liked it
This book packs a punch in a fairly brief package. I think Paul La Farge has created a little masterpiece. I had to check myself from speeding through the last chapters. One of the problems with a good book for me anyway is wanting to finish it before life pulls you away and forces you to wait to return to it. This book deserves attention and a slower read. The sentences and ideas expressed are comparable in quality and enjoyment to the best writing of the year and more.

Bonus points for setting
David Szondy
Jun 02, 2012 David Szondy rated it did not like it
Luminous Airplanes by Paul La Farge is a book that tries to answer the question of how to adapt the traditional paper and pasteboard book to the digital age. How do you take what is essentially a static collection of words and turn it into something open ended and interactive? How do you give it a new digital dimension? Mr. La Farge's answer is to turn his novel about a content manager returning to his boyhood home in the Catskills into an experiment in hypertexting or, as he prefers to call it, ...more
H R Koelling
Aug 10, 2012 H R Koelling rated it liked it
This book has a nice mellow tone to it. It's comes across as borderline literary. There are some great passages that delve into the human psyche, which question our presence as human beings. But the constant shifts in POV and time kept me rereading several parts of the book more than once to try to figure out what the author was trying to convey. And then there had to be the September 11th reference, which I think is overused and trite a decade after the event.

Considering this was written by a
Mike Roberts
Jan 18, 2012 Mike Roberts rated it liked it
A novel written mostly in the style of a memoir, from the author's point of view writing in Summer 2001 looking back over the last year, 5 years, and some time from his childhood.

Mostly a very pleasant read, zips along, and a whole bunch of different things in there including some interesting observations of San Francisco before and in the boom.

The problem for me though was that as a first-person perspective you are deeply immersed in the narrator, and by the end I'd lost a lot of sympathy for h
Dec 19, 2011 Megan rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Enjoyable, but many of the pieces that I liked most (such as the weaving in of historical details about millennial religious groups and inventors of failed flying machines) I thought could have been done better than they were, and somehow given even a little more weight. And while I started out liking the narrator, I felt his motivations were never really explored and he became a bit of a 'bleh' character by the end. But nonetheless I thought the other characters, and the places in the novel, we ...more
May 07, 2013 Jodi rated it liked it
Really interesting book ... written in quite a different style - very clever. Basically the story of how our main character (male) is re-tracing his life through returning to his home-town; trying to find out (in a round-a-bout kind of way) who his father was, and trying to incorporate what he discovers into the story he had concocted about who he THOUGHT his father was ... it takes the entire book for him to start "living his life" and it's so cleverly written. Enjoyable book.
Jul 15, 2012 Leisl rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012_reads
I read the whole thing. As with the number of stars I chose, it was "okay". I finished the book, but nothing left me saying in my mind, "Wow that was a good book," or even, "I really like this character." None of the characters, not even the protagonist, was particularly likable. This is something I found frustrating. I'd like to find one character that I can identify with, but this book made this very difficult.
Jonathan Cassie
Jul 12, 2012 Jonathan Cassie rated it really liked it
LaFarge has written a satisfying, highly-focused character study that he has melded to a really interesting hypertext experience for readers who finish the novel. He's quite interested in relationships and character - and he does a good job of bringing the reader into his viewpoint character's challenges and perspective.
Jan 17, 2012 Allyson rated it liked it
He is a really talented writer and this was an interesting concept, but overall just too depressing.
Too discursive and rambling and conclusions escaped me.
Intriguing enough however that I would read his next book which I cannot say about a lot of recent disappointing reads.
Jan 03, 2012 Dave rated it liked it
I should probably demote Spin State as Luminous Airplanes is undoubtedly a better book. I'd probably give it four stars, but it just kind of peters out at the end, which I found a little unsatisfying.
May 19, 2012 Barry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
It has all the style of say a Franzen or Russo, but gets too muddled and doesn't flow in some places stopping it being up at that level, but I will certainly be reading more by La Farge.
Kate Rappe
Jan 05, 2014 Kate Rappe rated it did not like it
Tried to listen in audiobook. I usually like these stories that go back and forth in time about families but this one bored me so I stopped about /3 of the way through.
Architeacher rated it it was amazing
Sep 30, 2011
Barbara rated it did not like it
Jan 03, 2012
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Paul La Farge is the author of Luminous Airplanes, The Artist of the Missing (FSG, 1999) and Haussmann, or the Distinction (FSG, 2001); and a book of imaginary dreams, The Facts of Winter. His short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Harper’s Magazine, Fence, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. His nonfiction appears in The Believer, Bookforum, Playboy, and Cabinet. He lives in upstate New York.

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