Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Week At The Airport

Recently I read a terrific little book.
Alain de Botton's A Week at the Airport.
It was my seventh venture into the world of de Botton -- and as always, a wonderful, thoughtful, humorous, and rewarding time.
In this, his most recent book, the Swiss-born, London-living author is commissioned by BAA [they own London's Heathrow Airport] to spend a week as writer-in-residence. Like Tom Hanks in Terminal he is there ALL THE TIME, except in this case, the vagrant brandishes an all-expense-paid voucher for everything, including lavish meals in The Concorde Room and his sleeping quarters in the attached hotel.
Furnished with a desk in the very middle of all the action [see photo below] Alain was given free-access to everything Heathrow! In his inimitably witty and incisive way, he proceeds to illuminate all aspects of airport life, modestly sprinkling his wealth of incidental knowledge as he goes. And as you turn the pages, you are met with the brilliant accompanying photographs of Richard Baker. Oh, what a beautiful book.

I think my favourite part was when the author visits the in-house book store.
After his bracketed note that none of his own titles are on the shelves he goes on to discuss what is, in fact, there. Ironically, TERROR seems to be a predominant genre! You've got to admit, airport bookstores are indeed reaching out to a different clientele than your local antiquarian bookseller. The author strikes up a convo with store manager Manishankar:
"I explained…that 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 one feel somehow less alone and strange."
As I read this, I nearly spewed coffee through my nose!
Because I had to realize that these are exactly the kind of books that de Botton himself writes!
Then this: Manishankar wondered if I might like a magazine instead.
In my opinion, de Botton could be assigned the topic of "Sewer Effluent in the Middle Ages" and produce a book along those lines which would thoroughly engage the reader.
So -- just think of what he does with this airport!

It is definitely a worthwhile read! I highly recommend that you find yourself a copy of this thing, and while you're at it, pick up some other works by this author.
You will not be disappointed.
In an interview, when asked what he does all day, Alain replied “Sit at home, at the top of the house, and think about stuff."
Any reader will be thankful that de Botton does not stay up there, but climbs down from the attic…. and writes.



Stefanie said...

I love de Botton! I haven't read this one yet and really should get myself a copy. If had the goal of becoming a writer, I would so want to be a writer like him. None of his books are the same and they are all on such fascinating topics.

Isabella K said...

I want to like this guy, I really do, I've tried, but someting about him, his writing style, rubs me the wrong way. Like, I have to put the book down before I get angry kind of way. I even tried to buy his books as Christmas gifts, but I couldn't do it. But who knows, maybe this is the book that will turn my mind around.

Louise said...

Having just returned from a journey to the wilds of Texas I've just started listening to an audiobook of his Art of Travel. It's engaging and thought provoking from the get go. This would be a great companion I think. Must try to keep it in mind.

Cipriano said...

Stefanie -- it's a very small, little book, but well worth the couple of hours to read it. He has such a perfect way of saying grand things about the commonplace things of life.

Isabella -- Aww, that's too bad -- I guess sometimes some authors just do not.... click with us, as readers. I have emailed back and forth with Alain de Botton several times and he is just SUCH a nice guy, perhaps someday something he writes will connect with you.

Louise -- you have hit on one of the very few books of his I have NOT read. Thank you for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

This sounds wonderful ... I'm ashamed to say, like Stefanie, that I haven't read de Boton yet either. (Oh, and I must say I have seen his books in the bookshops at Sydney International Airport.)

And if this is a little book, then it might be a good place to start.