Sunday, September 15, 2013

Airport Bookstores

In the late 1980s, I traveled probably seven or ten days most months, and spent a good deal of time in airports. I decided then that they were something like the debtors prisons of Dickens's day, uncomfortable places that one arrived at not wholly through one's fault, and where one could obtain the elements of comfort but at high prices. The elements of comfort I did obtain mostly ran to beer--if I were on a homeward leg--and reading matter.

National Airport (not yet Reagan National Airport) had a fair bookstore. I know that I bought Aksyonov's The Burn there, I'm pretty sure that I bought Amis's The Old Devils there, and I suspect that I bought Fatal Shore there. Milwaukee's airport had a used bookstore, which seems hardly probable now; coincidentally or not, it also had about the best beer selection I noticed in my travels then.

The stores have fallen off. When I arrived early to meet a flight at Reagan National last year, I saw very little in the bookstore that I'd care to buy. There were the reliable Penguins in the classics shelf, but for newer matter there was a biography of Bonhoeffer to balance an otherwise weak selection--the sort of history that seems industrialized, 150+ shades of something, etc.

In Schiphol last month I couldn't fault the linear measure of the bookstores, but the three I saw all had the same stock, at least in English. Despite the prospect of the long flight back to Washington, I couldn't settle on anything. There was Stoner, but in a format less handy than NYRB's. There was Anthony Beevor on World War II, but I know how that one ends, and I do have a fair number of books on the subject. I left without a book. Perhaps if I could read Dutch I would have thought the selection better and left with a book, in which case it is provincial of me to complain of those stores.

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