On the road: the new airport books

There’s a categoIMG_0194ry of paperback books that’s usually called “airport books.” You know the kind: the latest thrillers, mysteries, and romances–pop novels suitable for keeping a reader occupied for six hours on a plane. As you dashed through JFK or LAX or ATL or MIA, you found these paperbacks not in actual bookstores, but in the newsstand sort of concession, along with magazines, chocolate bars, and tiny packets of aspirin.

The choice of airport books used to be rather narrow: many of us probably wouldn’t have chosen any of them unless we were absolutely desperate for something to read. Which did happen.

But the category has morphed: if you travel by air, you know all about it. Now it includes hardcover books, humor, literary novels, children’s books, best-selling memoirs, and more. (In the old days you’d never have found Hillary Clinton’s memoir in an airport bookstore at all, much less in hardcover.) And the phenomenon is doubly interesting because it’s all about a category of books. Not e-books. Book books.

This week, passing through the Salt Lake City airport on the way to Oregon, I saw this big display (photo above) of “Great Reads,” half hardcover, half paperback. There’s a surprising amount of choice.  The titles and authors are a little hard to read in the photo, so here are a few: Invisible, James Patterson; Identical, Scott Turow; The Matchmaker, Elin Hilderbrand; One Plus One, Jojo Moyes; Conversion, Katherine Howe; Looking for Alaska, John Green; The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri; The Wolves of Midwinter, Anne Rice; Night Film, Marisha Pessl.

The choice still leans toward thrillers and romance, but Jhumpa Lahiri? It’s a little like airport food: concession after concession of sort-of junk food, and here and there a vendor selling something you’d actually like to eat.

I had my e-reader and the New Yorker in my carry-on, but how comforting to know that should the worst happen–should one accidentally leave home with nothing to read–sustenance is possible.


 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

WORD, Brooklyn, NY

Secret Garden Books, Seattle, WA

People Called Women, Toledo, OH


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