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Dear American Airlines

3.09  ·  Rating details ·  3,386 ratings  ·  728 reviews
Bennie Ford, a fifty-three-year-old failed poet turned translator, is traveling to his estranged daughter’s wedding when his flight is canceled. Stuck with thousands of fuming passengers in the purgatory of O’Hare International Airport, he watches the clock tick and realizes that he will miss the ceremony. Frustrated, irate, and helpless, Bennie does the only thing he can: ...more
Hardcover, 180 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2008)
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There are exactly two faintly positive things I can say about this book, so let's get them out of the way.

i. It was mercifully short.
ii. It wasn't quite dreadful enough to go on the 'utter dreck' shelf, though its brevity may have been a key mitigating factor.

Although it didn't quite make the 'utter dreck' cut, it was an overhyped, forgettable waste of time. One of those books where, when I read the glowing reviews it has garnered from others, I feel that maybe I live in a parallel universe. I
Entirely dysfunctional airline industry as a metaphor for entirely dysfunctional American life--abysmal failures to meet expectations and make connections, mounds of baggage nobody knows what to do with, and that sickening, existential feeling that life can be a vastly unfair, bureaucratic wasteland in which nobody cares. The writing is brilliant--fresh hysterical descriptions of being stuck forever in the hell hole that is O'Hare side by side with a surprisingly deep story of a human life gone ...more
Edward O'Neill
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
Too clever by half, as the British say.

Everyone was ballyhooing this book upon its publication.

So I plunked down for a nice hardcover addition.

Everyone knows the concept: one-time drunk, has-been poet, current translator rehashes his life story in a long, long, l-o-n-g letter of complaint to the air carrier that's left him stranded in O'Hare, missing his estranged daughter's wedding/commitment ceremony.

Nice concept.

Execution is fine and funny. Writer Jonathan Miles has a fine ear for a comic phr
“Airports are petri dishes for boredom, rage, nicotine withdrawal, and gastrointestinal discomfort.” During an unexpected overnight layover in Chicago, Bennie Ford writes an extended letter to American Airlines, ostensibly to demand his $392.68 back, but really to tell the story of his life, including how his mentally unstable mother, Miss Willa, fell for a Polish exterminator, his road to alcoholism, and his volatile relationship with Stella and their daughter. Said daughter, also named Stella, ...more
Aug 20, 2008 rated it did not like it
I had such high hopes for this book. The idea of wrapping a narrative within an angry letter to an airline, written while stuck at an airport for hours, is a clever one. Unfortunately, the writing itself goes over the top with clever, adopting an inronic, winking voice that quickly grows old. You never really care about the main character, mostly because his motives hide behind so many layers of smug attitude, coming from the character and the author himself. Plus, the narrator is a translator, ...more
Nov 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
My thoughts so far:

Rage, rage and more rage - this is what this book is all about. Seemingly rage against a company who wouldn't deliver good service, but really rage against life itself, and all the disappointments we get from it. It's maddening that things don't go as we planned, that things go wrong, that everything is really shit, or at least, much less glorious than what they made us think as children. We were full of promise then, and now, we're just like everybody else - struggling to sur
Dan Butterfass
Jul 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I've always admired Jonathon Miles' personality-driven, lyrically-satisfying journalism - book reviews, food writing, outdoors essays, etc. - so of course I was excited to read his first novel.

Whether one loves or hates this protogonist, or loves or hates this book, (the nature of the beast of this book is that doesn't seem to leave much middle ground as far readerly relationships go), no one can deny Miles can flat-out write, he can write sentences, so well that his honor the craft of literatu
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
I listened to the audio version of this book and it was narrated by Mark Bramhall.

Bennie Ford is a 53 year old man, on his way to California to attend his daughter's wedding.... the daughter he has not seen since she was an infant. Bennie's flight, as so often happens, is canceled and he ends up at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, which puts in doubt his ability to make it to the wedding. Bennie and his fellow travelers are outraged over their thwarted travel plans; but in between 'smoke breaks', Benn
Apr 28, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Masochists
Oh. My. God. I kept listening to this book, hoping it would get better. It didn't.

Admittedly, it started off promisingly enough, with a virulent rant address to American Airlines, one all frequent flyers can relate to. Initially, the novel was quite funny in an off-kilter Confederacy of Dunces way. Alas, soon it began to spiral downwards as Benjamin (Benny) Ford, stranded in O'Hare airport, reflects on his life. Suffice it to say his life is a train wreck, in large part a self-inflicted one.

May 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Molly by: Kristina - 50 Books Group
Shelves: fiction
Dear Mr. Miles:

Had I bought this book and not borrowed it from the library, I'd demand my effin' money back.

This book was not all that funny. But then, maybe it wasn't intended to be and my bad for assuming a humorous read.

I was incredibly annoyed by your whiny narrator. I felt no connection to him.

The bit where you tell a separate story within the main one via sharing the narrator's evolving translation of a foreign novel? No dice. It seemed to me like you really wanted to write THAT tale and c
Jul 07, 2008 rated it did not like it
Well, I thought this book was about a traveler who got stuck in the airport and wrote a really long complaint letter to the airline ( actually was all that!) I thought the letter would be delightful to read and full of good zingers. NO! The dude writing it was just plain bitter. I've written stuff when I was mad or bitter and it is obvious. And it is also absolutely no fun to read.

I couldn't tell if the author himself is a bitter man (he doesn't look all that bitter on the book jacket) o
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks

"...there'd be so many halter tops bouncing on the dance floor it felt like the inside of a Lottery machine."

There is so much in this novel to dislike, to abhor even; I'm almost at a loss to explain why I enjoyed it so very much. But not quite. Perhaps it's because Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles is so incredibly ripe with wonderful, worthy, witty, occasionally weighty, word-smithery. Is it a short memoir novel, or a lengthy, spirited, poem? Or just a long-winded, overwritten, lett
Kelly Herold
Jul 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: adultfiction
The Good:

The novel's conceit--life story within a complaint letter to American Airlines. All the complaints were spot on and really depict the indignity of modern air travel perfectly.

The ending. No spoilers for me, but if this novel had ended any differently, I would have been writing a complaint letter.

The Bad:

The novel's protagonist is one of those 20th century characters I recently complained about on the blog ( Alcohol problem: check. Estranged from
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
My friend Mia recommended this one--so glad she did. I loved the author's sardonic sense of humor. The story is beautifully told.
It's the kind of book that you can't bear to take back to the library 'cause you love it sooooo much...and when you decide you're going to copy down all the great passages, you end up copying most of the book :)
May 01, 2009 rated it did not like it
I'm totally over reading about late-middle-age men who realize that they've spent their lives being puerile jackasses and try to make up for it in the ninth inning. Over it. Life is too short to finish books you do not enjoy reading and I am putting it down (even though there's a book club I'm supposed to read it for).
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book, read-2017
The conceit of this book (that it's entirely a long pissed off complaint letter by a man stuck in an airport after being screwed over by the airline) wears thin after a while, but I loved the complexity of the narrator's life, voice, and regrets.
Dec 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
Worst book ever!
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

I don’t care much for airports. Does anyone? Other than for aerial transportation purposes they offer nothing I couldn’t experience elsewhere for less money, trouble, anxiety, head- and/or heartache. To me airports are nothing more than compartmentalized downtowns, replete with meandering tourists, overpriced sandwiches and unfulfilled promises.

It’s the latter many, if not most, of us have experienced first-hand to varying degrees but equal infuriation. Which is to say we’ve all been
Aug 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I once spent an extra 36 hours stranded between flights in Chicago, so the premise of this novel made me laugh corrosively right away. Whenever an airport stacks up with the human detritus of canceled flights, you have to figure that some of the humans are missing something important -- like Bennie Ford, the author of this rant to American Airlines. Bennie is trying to get to the wedding of his daughter, whom he was not seen since her infancy. To emphasize how little he knows her, he's just lear ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Every critic was at first skeptical of this epistolary "gimmick novel" about a self-pitying, if lovable, loser, but by the end, all agreed that "the concept works beautifully" (Los Angeles Times). Miles's effort produced an intelligent, playful, and, above all, moving story full of humor and well-written digressions. Bennie is a remarkably flawed but sympathetic man, and though his hilarious asides may not always advance the storyline, they certainly contribute to the fun. The only point of cont

Jun 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
This book is not my usual pick--it's adult fiction with a 50-something male protagonist. But I am glad I read it. The writing is very sharp, and takes what could have been an annoyingly whiny missive and made it heartfelt and humorous introspective. Although Benny is not the most sympathetic character, I found myself rooting for him as his attempt to finally do the right thing is thwarted.
Mar 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
1 man rant. Boring.
Jowayria Rahal
Wooah. What a hike! Hard to believe it's Miles' debut novel.

Being stranded in an airport is no fun. You feel like an unloved package sitting in a dark Fed-ex warehouse waiting to be delivered, everything in you jumping up shouting '' deliver me! deliver me, now!'' and in so many ways, so goes Jonathan Miles' '' Dear American Airlines''.

The plot flows in something that resembles a tragicomey: Middle-aged aspiring yet failed poet now turned translator Bennie ( short for Benjamin) Ford is strande
Gregory Baird
“Dear American Airlines,
My name is Benjamin R. Ford and I am writing to request a refund in the amount of $392.68. But then, no, scratch that: Request is too mincy & polite … I am rather demanding a refund in the amount of $392.68. Demanding demanding demanding.”

So begins Jonathan Miles’ offbeat novel, Dear American Airlines, which is either a slight novel at 180 pages or an epic, profane rant of a letter depending on how you look at it. The aforementioned Bennie Ford has gotten strand
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved nearly everything about this book. Started reading while waiting to board an American Airlines flight of my own, realized how much my own frustrations about *everything* related to flying are really just about something else entirely.

Miles starts by framing the entire novel through the eyes of an angry American Airlines customer, writing ostensibly to request a refund for a cancelled flight. And then somehow, when the book starts to get really interesting 25 pages in or so, this crazed a
Larry H
I'm sure nearly all of us has been there: you're scheduled to get somewhere and your flight is canceled, for reasons you can't quite understand. And it makes you mad. Maybe mad enough to flip out on someone. For Bennie Ford, who is scheduled to fly to his estranged daughter's wedding, the fact that his flight was canceled for no apparent reason has thrown him into such a state that he proceeds to write a letter of complaint to American Airlines. But what starts out as a letter of complaint about ...more
Feb 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Um... Sad. Just, sad. I had read good things about this short novel and was excited to read it, but goddamn is it sad. Aging former alcoholic takes stock of his ruined life while he's derailed on his way to his estranged daughter's wedding. Normally I'm a sucker for anything involving translation or translators, but jeez. I do have a lot of pages dog-eared, which I suppose means it's well-written.

Shortly before I left New Orleans, I was fooling around with an equally alky divorcée named Sandra (
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book on CD. It never really grabbed me. It's the story of a man who is delayed en route from NYC to LA to attend his estranged daughter's wedding. What starts as a complaint letter to American Airlines regarding the delay turns into a lengthy autobiography through which we discover the details surrounding his failed relationship with his daughter's mother, his questionable upbringing by a schizophrenic mother, his alcoholism, and his absence from his daughter's upbringing.

Oct 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
When the protagonist's flight to his estranged daughter's wedding is delayed by almost a day, he starts a complaint letter to the airline which turns into a long rambling missive about his life. We learn why he is estranged from his daughter, why the wedding is so important, and ultimately how writing this letter saves his life. There is a subplot of his translations of another author's work (which is his job) and I didn't quite understand why all that was in there. I'm sure my English teachers ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Dear Dear American Airlines,

I demand to know how you fit such an incredible amount of fictional biography, faux(?) translation and commentary into your 180 pages. Usually, I would consider a book of your length a novella, but you are right to call yourself a novel.

Yes, your narrator is a no-account rogue, but he writes a great confessional complaint. Not only did I laugh, cry ("Stella!"), and run through many other emotions, you caught me off guard and I almost missed my train station. As you kn
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JONATHAN MILES is the author of the novels Dear American Airlines and Want Not, both New York Times Notable Books. His latest novel, Anatomy of a Miracle: The True* Story of a Paralyzed Veteran, a Mississippi Convenience Store, a Vatican Investigation, and the Spectacular Perils of Grace, is published by Crown/Hogarth.

Dear American Airlines was named a Best Book of 2008 by the Wall Street Journal,
“Had Stella been named anything else, and/or had we lived in any other city besides New Orleans, my desperate call would have been just my desperate call. In that alternate universe the neighbors might have peeked from behind the curtains but they wouldn't have laughed or, worse, joined in. But you simply cannot shout the name Stella while standing under a window in New Orleans and hope for anything like an authentic or even mildly earnest moment. Literature had beaten me to this moment, had staked its flag here first, and there was nothing I could do outside in that soupy, rain-drenched alleyway that could rise above sad parody. Perhaps if she'd been named Beatrice, or Katarzyna-maybe then my life would have turned out differently. Maybe then my voice would have roused her to the window, maybe then I could have told her that I was sorry, that I could be a better man, that I couldn't promise I knew everything it meant but I loved her. Instead I stared up at that black window, shutmouthed and impotent, blinking and reblinking my eyes to flush out the rainwater. "Stella," I whispered. The French have an expression: "Without literature life is hell." Yeah, well. Life with it bears its own set of flames.” 3 likes
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