During a recent trip to Spain, Mr. Novel Project Chronicles and I found ourselves spending a lot of time in airports and hanging around in train stations. For both of us, the main way we tend to relieve the tedium of waiting for a plane/train/automobile is to read. However, on this occasion we invented a little game to relieve the boredom. We each had to spot 10 fellow travelers who were reading and whoever got to 10 readers first won (the prize being a cold beer to be purchased by the loser at a local cerveceria on our arrival). The only rule was that the reader had to be reading a book or an e-reader (not the TV guide, a magazine or any of the daily newspapers) and they had to be a passenger, not a worker on a tea break.
Sadly, not once during our holiday did either of us win the game. Now admittedly it could be that we are not particularly observant people but we were hard pressed to find many people, other than ourselves, engrossed in a book while traveling. I found this peculiar and just a bit sad because for me, traveling is the perfect downtime to get some reading in without feeling any guilt that you should be doing something else that is productive (not that I believe reading is not productive but you get my point).
This got me thinking about airports and reading. Like the summer read, the airport read is marketed as a particular breed of book and while I generally choose my book before I leave the house there are still authors that I invariably associate with the airport. George RR Martin, Patricia Cornwall, Robert Ludlum, Marian Keyes, and Maeve Binchy spring to mind. Indeed if you go to any airport bookshop these authors tend to be plentiful amid the bestsellers. In fact, in Atocha station in Madrid, I came across a vending machine for books (which I frustratingly failed to take a picture of), which had some of these author’s titles on offer.
Yet, as we know, the book industry is changing beyond recognition and with it, it seems, is the phenomenon of airport reading. Looking around the airport last week there were far more people poking at smart phones, tablets and laptops than reading a book. Freely available wifi in airports and train stations means we are less and less a captive audience in these places and so it seems the explicit phenomenon of the airport read may be a thing of the past. This is not to say that there is no place for authors who might be identified as the ‘perfect’ airport read but it does highlight the fact that, as a society, our relationship to books is not what it once was.
What does this mean for the nature of reading? I’m not sure. One could jump to the conclusion that people don’t read anymore but this is an oft trotted out trope that people have been using since the advent of television. At one time even reading itself was not viewed as being a particularly virtuous activity, so this discussion, although an important one, can probably not be resolved with the observation that fewer people appear to use airports as a place to read a book. Instead I would suggest that how we approach the activity of reading itself is also changing. We no longer beholden to a book in order to relieve the boredom of travel so the act of reading itself takes on a different flavour that is something other than a tedium reliever.
What about you? Do you read at the airport or in public at all? Do you read different books while traveling than you do at home? I’d love to hear your thoughts so be sure to leave them in the comments below.