In Defense of Airport Fiction

airport fiction

I’m a well-read person. I gobble up historical biographies like candy, I own heirloom copies of Hamlet, Slaughterhouse-Five, and The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and in the past year I finished sixty-five books. And I love airport fiction.

Let’s start with a quick definition, because travelers today often spend more of their airborne time on iPads and Kindles than buried in books. A book isn’t “airport fiction” because of any specific genre or theme, but because it’s the kind of book you’d pick up in an airport to read on a long flight. Books of this type aren’t terribly philosophical and probably won’t stick with you long after you’re done reading them, instead they are fast-paced and engaging and take the reader for a fun ride.

Making reading an enjoyable and accessible form of entertainment for more Americans may be exactly what we need.

When I talk to people about books, it’s not uncommon to hear people deriding airport fiction as “not real reading,” or complaining about shallow characters and contrived plots. Sometimes they’re right. But that doesn’t mean airport fiction can’t be a fun, lighthearted way to pass the time. Making reading an enjoyable and accessible form of entertainment for more Americans may be exactly what we need.

Between 1978 and 2014, the percentage of Americans who don’t read nearly tripled. It’s tough to get people to read. Elementary and middle schools often encourage students to read books that they find enjoyable through incentive or reward systems, but too often high schoolers are turned off the idea of reading by the books they’re assigned in class. That’s a shame, because the benefits of reading are well documented: it helps memory, slows cognitive decline, and makes people feel happier overall.

Few would argue against the idea that Americans would benefit from reading more in their free time. All too often, we fall out of our reading habits after graduation. That’s understandable—reading a book takes a significant amount of time, and it requires a lot more cognitive focus than watching TV or scrolling through Instagram.

Every so often I find myself slipping out of my reading habit, and it is hard to get back on track. And when I can’t bring myself to slog through another chapter of that 700-page tome that I’m working on, I pick up something lighthearted and silly. When I’m trying to kick myself back into the habit of reading, I don’t want to get wrapped up in how impressive my reading list is to other people—I just care that I’m reading.

I think this can mentality help us all pick up books more often. If we want Americans to read more, we should focus on making reading accessible to everyone. The United States is blessed with an extremely high rate of literacy; the problem we’re facing is getting people fired up about reading. And I believe airport fiction can do just that.

Airport fiction gets people excited about characters and their adventures.

Airport fiction gets people excited about characters and their adventures. Honestly, I’m happy to see people reading anything. It’s frustrating to see bookworms making the twin complaint that people don’t read enough and when they do read, their book selection isn’t good enough to count. Check the privilege, and be happy there are books in hands.

Reading something is better than reading nothing. Will that random chick lit show someone deep truths about the world? Will the murder mystery a person reads on the train because their phone was dead change their life? Probably not. But they were entertaining nonetheless. If you want to make reading a part of your life, airport fiction can be a great place to start. If you’re a veteran bookworm, it’s a great break from those brain-busting anthologies. Books don’t need to be fine literature to give people pleasure; I’m just glad to see people reading.

Suggested Airport Fiction

The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson514C8aVV4gL._SX298_BO1,204,203,200_
A true tale that intertwines the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.



Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.


51+UtMMPNsL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_ The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kid
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.


51iJNmx01KL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ The Pearl that Broke its Shell – Nadia Hashimi
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.


51MyBHMOBCL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).




Also published on Medium.