Friday, January 20, 2012

Winging It - Part 2

Because basing a piece on airport bookstores on my personal experience has its limitations, I've started researching the traveler's options in places I haven't visited. Portland's International Airport, for example, boasts three branches of Powell's Books which sell new and used books.  (The history of Powell's Books, started by a University of Chicago student, who was encouraged by a group of friends and professors--including Saul Bellow--also makes for happy reading.) Per an article that originally appeared in USA Today*:

According to store manager Martin Barrett, travelers can stop by the main (pre-security) store anytime to sell or trade up to three books at a time, but anyone with more than three books to sell or swap must drop them off and return a day or two later for a tally. "A lot of airport employees and airline crewmembers take advantage of this," says Barrett, but if a passenger shows up with a suitcase full of books to swap, that's fine too. 

Inside the Portland International Airport-Concourse D.
Architecture and airport aficionados looking for a more
exciting view of the building may want to visit the
American Institute of Steel Construction site, which
features photos of the massive steel-and-glass canopy
that covers the passenger drop-off area

Harriet Baskas who wrote the USA Today piece--and who blogs at Stuck at the Airport--also introduced me to 2nd Edition Booksellers which gets high marks on Yelp. Located in the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the store exclusively sells "previously owned" books.  Other airport bookstores to check out include: HMS Host's Simply Books, with outlets in 110 airports worldwide. I have no first-hand knowledge of the stores, but one nice feature, per their website, at least some of the HMS stores have seating available for customers. 

More research into the subject of airport bookstores led me to Gate Guru, an app designed to help those navigating airports find a variety of shops and services; users can also post reviews.  Users can locate bookstores in more than 120 airports.*

* Total number cited in a 2011 LA Times article, but I believe more are now available.

*   *   *   *

Recommended Reading: A Week in the Airport by Alain de Botton: While it might be hard to imagine that a book with this title would be hugely entertaining and occasionally moving, this slim volume manages to be both. While spending a week as writer-in-residence in  Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow Airport at the request of the company that owns the facility, de Botton described his impressions of the bookstore:
Across the way from the exchange desk was the terminal's largest bookshop. Seemingly, in spite of the author's defensive predictions about the commercial future of books (perhaps linked to the unavailability of any of his titles at an airport outlet), sales here were soaring. One could buy two volumes and get a third for free, or pick up four and be eligible for a fizzy drink. The death of literature has been exaggerated...If there was a conclusion to be drawn from the number of bloodstained covers, however, it was that there was a powerful desire, in a wide cross-section of airline passengers, to be terrified. High above the earth, they were looking to panic about being murdered, and therefore to forget their more mundane fears about the success of a conference in Salzburg or the challenges of having sex for the first time with a new partner in Antigua. 
I had a chat with a manager [and told him]...I was looking for the sort of books in which a genial voice expresses emotions that the reader has long felt but never before really understood; those that convey the secret, everyday things that society at large prefers to leave unsaid; those that make on feel somehow less alone and strange. [He] wondered if I might like a magazine instead.
Many more such meditations can be found here.

Update 2-1-12: Patrick Smith, an airline pilot who writes the Ask the Pilot feature on, posted an article on airport bookstores yesterday. His piece, Where are the books? is a plea for better bookstores at airports—and more of them. A number of commenters second the recommendation for Powell’s at the Portland International Airport and one suggests a visit to Jetway Express Booksellers at LAX.  

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