The best reading time often occurs when you’re en route. Subway platforms, bus terminals, and train stations are regularly littered with book-engrossed commuters, but when it comes to long-term literary indulgence, nothing beats the airport. Technology shortage, unpredictable conditions, and hours upon hours of waiting time often means that the best occupation, sometimes even the only available diversion, is a simple book — a fact that has not been lost on either the publishing or air travel industries.
Even if you’re not planning a flight anytime soon, you can get a taste of the surprisingly entertaining life of an airport with Alain de Botton’s newly released A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary. The British pop-philosopher — who has written about everything from the art of travel to Proust, architecture, and love — spent a week last summer as the London airport’s first-ever writer-in-residence. During his stay, his laptop was hooked up to screens visible to passersby, and travelers were invited to share their stories with him. The result is a charming tribute to a “non-place” that, given a little patience, can capture any story-inclined imagination.
Killing time between flights also got a lot easier for the more than 18 million passengers who endure layovers at the Netherland’s Schiphol airport after the Dutch transportation hub opened the first library at a major airport over the summer. Featuring 1,200 books in more than two-dozen languages — all of which are either written by Dutch authors or relate to the country’s history and culture — the library’s focus is on sharing Dutch culture with travelers who don’t have time to leave the airport while passing through. Visitors can enjoy their borrowed material in any of the cushy chairs spread throughout the space — a welcome respite from hours spent over a crumpled tabloid in the food court.
Virgin America, meanwhile, recently announced that it would introduce a “Read” option to its already decked-out entertainment system. This addition will round out an array of in-flight distractions that already includes satellite and dish TV, on demand movies, video games, orderable edibles, and seat-to-seat instant messaging. No word yet on what types of books will be available, but given the already successful plethora of promotional TV episodes on board, this could be a successful platform for publishers to advertise upcoming titles through sample chapters and free book sections. And for those who have already converted to e-readers, this will also eliminate that awkward window where you have to “turn off” your reading material for take-off and landing.