Up in the Air

Up in the Air

2.7 58
by Walter Kirn
     
 

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Ryan Bingham's job as a Career Transition Counselor–he fires people–has kept him airborne for years. Although he has come to despise his line of work, he has come to love the culture of what he calls “Airworld,” finding contentment within pressurized cabins, anonymous hotel rooms, and a wardrobe of wrinkle-free slacks. With a letter of resignation sitting on his…  See more details below

Overview

Ryan Bingham's job as a Career Transition Counselor–he fires people–has kept him airborne for years. Although he has come to despise his line of work, he has come to love the culture of what he calls “Airworld,” finding contentment within pressurized cabins, anonymous hotel rooms, and a wardrobe of wrinkle-free slacks. With a letter of resignation sitting on his boss's desk, and the hope of a job with a mysterious consulting firm, Ryan Bingham is agonizingly close to his ultimate goal, his Holy Grail: one million frequent flier miles. But before he achieves this long-desired freedom, conditions begin to deteriorate.

With perception, wit, and wisdom, Up in the Air combines brilliant social observation with an acute sense of the psychic costs of our rootless existence, and confirms Walter Kirn as one of the most savvy chroniclers of American life.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Christopher Buckley
A novel about a man who lives in a parallel world making his living counseling the downsized could hardly arrive -- land -- at a more apt time, in this season of dot-coma and summer-air-travel hell. But this is a book that will endure beyond its era. Ryan Bingham is our Man in the Casual Friday Suit, and he is sitting next to us. In fact, he may be us.
New York Times Book Review
Ryan Bingham has his head in the clouds. Sick of his job as a "Career Transition Counselor" (he fires people), Bingham gives himself six days to rack up the last of his million frequent flyer miles while still on the company dime. But every time Bingham descends from what he affectionately calls "Airworld," he hits the real turbulence: a runaway sister, a very un-PC boss and a possible stalker whom he once helped fire. In between dealing with his many crises on the ground, Bingham becomes preoccupied with getting a job at the elusive MythTech, a secretive think tank determined to crack open the spending habits of the world. Soon the Marriott kitchenette dinners, bleary-eyed perusals of airline magazines and string of one-night stands take their toll on Bingham, who eventually has a breakdown in Las Vegas. Kirn knows how to tell an engaging tale, and the characters we meet add revealing dimensions to the disarmingly likable protagonist.
—Mike Phillips

Library Journal
In this quirky and unsettling novel (his third after Thumbsucker), Kirn manages to capture on paper much of what is worst about our present age. Ryan Bingham, a business flyer, is six days from attaining his personal goal of one million miles on his frequent-flyer account. He's in the air so much that he has no actual real-world address, having become, instead, a resident of "Airworld," where "my hometown papers are USA Today and the Wall Street Journal." Bingham's job is CTC (Career Transition Counseling) helping large companies fire their executives with minimal legal risk. The job is wearing him down, but he's determined to reach his mileage goal, and this determination, amazingly, provides sufficient suspense to carry the reader along from airport to airport. Kirn has a gift for exploiting telling details about our consumption-mad culture, hinting at dark marketing conspiracies that will have us all buying strange items within the month, as though we were simply puppets of the marketing companies, one of which Bingham aspires to: MythTech. Harrowing reading, but worth the turbulence. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/01.] David Dodd, Marin Cty. Free Lib., San Rafael, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Saturated with smart irony and ripe with a sense of dislocation, this third novel from the fiction editor of GQ (Thumbsucker, 1999, etc.) takes readers on a frenetic tour of Airworld, that in-flight zone of business travel where destinations bleed invisibly into connections, and connections become stations along a perpetual journey. The story follows Ryan Bingham, a corporate Career Transitions Counselor (read: a guy for hire who fires and flees), as he closes in on the millionth accumulated mile in his GreatWest frequent-flyer plan. Bingham's plan is to nab the final mile and leave his unsatisfying job, as well as the hotel suites, rental cars, airport breakfasts, and credit cards that come with it. There are secondary goals as well: Bingham needs to shore up a book deal with publisher Morris Dwight; advise Art Krusk now that his California taco franchise has gone under; keep his options open with MythTech, a shadowy firm that may or may not be interested in hiring him; pitch a licensing deal involving the name and logo of business guru Sanford Pinter; and keep his pulse on the forthcoming marriage of his sister Julie. But he runs into turbulence both literal and figurative: his credit card is stolen, his sister Julie disappears for days, and he's accused of plagiarizing a business book that even he recognizes wasn't all that original in the first place. To top it off, Bingham begins to suspect that GreatWest is trying to sabotage his million-mile achievement. The whole affair hurtles toward an anesthetized, soul-wearying epiphany aboard his final flight to Omaha, as he is toasted by the airline's president. Kirn's prose is splendid, his observations droll and intelligent,his evocations of Airworld pitch-perfect. If only his ambitions did more than snugly fit his grasp. A mild treat from a stubbornly minor novelist still marking literary time somewhere between Don DeLillo and the authors of those fluffy confections readers inhale on summer beaches—or in airports.
From the Publisher
“A dead-on, wry portrait of the life of the road warrior.” –Rudy Maxa, The Washington Post

“[A] hilarious, often ingenious ode to America.. . . . Whip smart yet entertaining enough to rival anything from John Grisham.” –Julia Dahl, Time Out New York

“Kirn’s style is as bright and metallic as the shiny skin of a jet airplane. But his underlying point is refreshingly down to earth.” –John Gallagher, Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307476289
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/27/2009
Edition description:
Movie Tie-in Edition
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ryan Bingham’s job as a Career Transition Counselor–he fires people–has kept him airborne for years. Although he has come to despise his line of work, he has come to love the culture of what he calls “Airworld,” finding contentment within pressurized cabins, anonymous hotel rooms, and a wardrobe of wrinkle-free slacks. With a letter of resignation sitting on his boss’s desk, and the hope of a job with a mysterious consulting firm, Ryan Bingham is agonizingly close to his ultimate goal, his Holy Grail: one million frequent flier miles. But before he achieves this long-desired freedom, conditions begin to deteriorate.

With perception, wit, and wisdom, Up in the Air combines brilliant social observation with an acute sense of the psychic costs of our rootless existence, and confirms Walter Kirn as one of the most savvy chroniclers of American life.

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Meet the Author

Walter Kirn is the fiction editor for GQ magazine, and the author of three previous novels. He lives near Livingston, Montana.

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Up in the Air 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you're going to read the book, then don't see the movie first. The book is just meh and never gives you a firm grasp on Ryan's job. His relationships are just hollow interactions with no real resolution of the issues between the characters. Towards the end it's not even fun to read about Ryan Bingham. The movie shows all the potential the book had.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read "Up in the Air" before I saw the movie, and let me just say that the movie bears little resemblance to Kirn's novel. The book has excellent voice -- it's fresh and keeps you turning from page to page. The author reveals backstory through the protagonists strainted relationships with everyone in his life -- his mother, sisters, and even the woman he's trying to have an affair with. I enjoyed Kirn's use of the "unreliable" narrator, and the surprise ending worked well. A quick, fun read.
oldeagle More than 1 year ago
If I had read the book first, I would not have gone to see the movie. But I had seen the movie and enjoyed it for the acting, the scenery, the laughs, the unusual plot. Back to the book--other than the names of some of the few characters who were in the movie, and that Ryan Bingham flew around the country getting air miles, almost nothing connected. The parts where he was with his sister were completely confusing. The relationship with Alex was even more so.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Serious displacement occurs when main character Ryan approaches his millionth-mile mark flying with Great West Airlines. Suddenly that goal seems the only thing within reach--more important things slip out of his grasp in inverse relation the closer he comes to his millionth mile. Very funny look at the modern corporate sensibility. Author Kirn implicates us all, but with good humor, and since he skewers everyone, with fairness. To laugh again, at these things that drive one mad, is worth the price of admission. I relish the idea of watching George Clooney play the lead in the film. Seems a singularly inspired choice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We've all met this guy. I met him when I first started flying and started carrying a book written in Farsi to scare him off as I read the arabic script. Another ploy I used was to clutch a vomit bag close to my mouth and act like I was ready to use it at a moment's notice. Fortunately they've given these guys laptops to play with now which shuts them up somewhat. throughly enjoyed this book. Ed Thorn
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I really like this book. Since I saw the movie before I read the book, I can hear George Cloony as the main character telling the story. Enjoy the read.
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portorikan More than 1 year ago
The movie was leaps and bounds better. The book just drudged on and on.
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