Many travelers say books “have a different impact” at the airport. The reasons range from lack of demands on your time when traveling to pure boredom which lends itself to better concentration. It’s also possible that the type of book you tend to pick up at the airport (read: thrillers and beach reads) has something to do with it...
We discussed the “airport hot” phenomenon (where foreigners seem more attractive at the airport than in other settings, due to the shimmer of mystery surrounding them) and the airport beer phenomenon, but what about books? Why is it easier to sink into a book on an uncomfortable seat at the gate than on your sofa at home?
Based on an informal poll of friends and colleagues, as well as the good folks at Twitter, I’ve come to believe that I’m not alone in thinking that books, like beers, “hit differently” at the airport. Just check out some of the statements below.
Buying a book at the airport is different, don’t ask me why
— Sarah (Mad Girl Summer Version) (@girl_on_books) August 24, 2021
Buying books from the airport bookstore has a different impact
– no jem lover no option⁷ (@ihatetsunderes) March 6, 2021
In less than a minute, I was able to find several variations of the phrase “books have a different impact at the airport” on Twitter, as well as great ideas for airport library systems (“what if we could start an airport library system where you borrow books for each leg of your trip and pay a small deposit to make sure you get it back at the next airport”) and comparisons with other things that strike differently (see : “books at the airport = sandwiches at the beach”).
The pleasure of reading the books you buy at the airport is different
— hannah stack (@haystackkk) March 4, 2021
reading a fictional book on a plane >> watching movies sounds different (random idea, but what if we could start an airport library system where you borrow books for each leg of your trip and pay a small deposit to ensure you return it to the next airport)
— Mallika Parulekar (@mallikathinks) March 27, 2022
the books you read in airports are just different
— erifili (@marauders) June 15, 2020
It’s not just book fanatics on Twitter who are preaching this. Frequent flyer Marta Gutierrez told DMARGE: “I sat right outside my gate at the quietest and smallest airport in southern Spain. The book I was reading (The Girl On The Train) had me so hooked. I relied on the flight announcements to board, but by the time I looked at the screen to London, my flight had already left without me!! I couldn’t believe it.
DMARGE entertainment writer Bec had a similar experience on public transport. “I personally find reading good books in a public place to be a risk,” she said. “If the book is incredibly captivating, I don’t know where I am anymore. I missed my train stop several times because I was so focused on the story; I even cried in a cafe because of a sad storyline, then realized I was getting a lot of funny looks because of all those tears…”
This penguin The February article offers more reasons why reading is different at the airport, explaining how airport bookstores narrow down your selection for you, “sometimes forcing you to buy something you might not have – be not otherwise”.
The article also explains how the limitation can be a good thing: “There’s not a lot of room in your luggage, which means airport stores naturally force you to be as selective as possible – you don’t can bring only the best, the most page-turning, or the most convenient.
“Humans love limits, and airport bookstores are the ultimate mix of restriction and indulgence.”
The article also asserts: “Travel and books are already bedfellows – books can help us travel both practically (think guidebooks and non-fiction travel writing) and metaphorically (to other places, times, and mindsets in fiction and poetry) – and there’s nothing better than planning what to read on vacation, either.
Another potential theory is that airports make people feel important (and therefore everything you do there is elevated by association). As columnist Shlomo Chaim Kesselman once wrote, “At the airport, people behave differently, as if they matter. You can just see it written on their faces as they deliberately wheel suitcases through the terminal or grab a bite to eat before boarding.
“Even after the journey is over, people indulge in stories of their travel experiences as if they were tales of heroic battles. Trivial stories of abrupt flight attendants or stubborn customs officers are blown away in epic tales of suspense and intrigue, analyzed blow by blow.
“Is it because the tickets are so expensive, or because between security, passport control and flight attendants, there are so many people to take care of you? I do not think so. I think travel makes people feel important because when we travel we have a mission, a destination. And that means we matter. Here at the airport, we move, literally and figuratively.
HuffPostfor her part, published an article in 2012 titled “why do we always take books on vacation”, calling books “a masseuse for the mind” and theorizing, “It’s all about the escape”. there’s no phone to answer, no dishes to do, no tough questions to answer or things to feel guilty about…” It’s easy to see how this lends itself to stress-free reading.
On the other hand, not everyone finds “different bestselling” books at the airport. In fact, DMARGE COO Kate Perrett strongly disagrees.
“I always have something to do at the airport,” she said. “I never read at the airport. Which airport are you going to?”
Kate also pointed out that it’s not quite the same when you have kids, explaining that when you’re traveling as a family, it’s pretty rare to have time to sit down and read, because as soon as you’ll go through security, your kids will want to get something to eat (after checking out all the restaurants and cafes on offer), they’ll want to get a drink somewhere else, and then just when you’re about to get up to walk to at your gate, they’ll want to go to the bathroom.
As DMARGE’s automotive and watch editor Jamie Weiss points out, there can also be an element of self-awareness to reading at the airport or on a plane, because you’re worried that other passengers will think it’s “performative and judge you for what you’re reading, in a way that you just don’t care when it comes to your movie choice – simply because watching a movie is the “normal” thing to do in the plane.
Stéphanie Convery, writing for The Guardian, also commented on this. She wrote (referring to people showing off their holiday reading lists): “Every year around this time my Instagram feed fills up with pictures of books. They are stacked between five and ten inches high, sometimes neatly stacked, sometimes in a pleasant mess.
“There’s invariably a Booker Prize winner or shortlist in there, as well as that novel everyone’s been raving about since August, and a self-help book that passes itself off as an important commentary on our times. . Maybe there’s a classic or two, a slim little press gem and the next big thing in the new spin on nonfiction.
She added: “There is art in the summer reading pile, of course. It is balanced in genre, represents the diversity of authors, covers at least two major concerns of the times while giving a nod to the greats of past literature…”
“But I can’t help wishing for a little honesty. Because you’re probably not going to be reading this 700-page literary award-winning this summer, are you? And when you slump on your beach towel/poolside lounge chair/couch after a summer, are you really going to pick up this awfully important but probably quite difficult political nonfiction? Or are you just going to turn on the TV and watch Henry Cavill growl for three hours? »
Another great insight from his article is: “It’s not that these books aren’t worth reading – the merits of authorship or the contribution to literature made by writers worthy of these visual reading lists It’s just that, like most things we post on social media, the Summer Reading Pile is both ambitious and performative.
“‘I want to be the kind of person who reads books like this on my summer vacation,’ he says. But implicit in the act of releasing the picture for public consumption is the hope that we become someone who is at least seen as the kind of person who reads these books on their summer vacation – whether we read them or not.
There you have it: an important dilemma to think about the next time you have two hours to kill at the airport. And yet another great reason to pick up something ‘trash’ – or an airport thriller.