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“What to read on a train journey” by Arthur Bingham Walkley first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on January 24, 1902, and was just reprinted this year in their June 23 issue. The author suggests “The modern passenger either reads merely to kill time or does not read at all”. O tempora! O mores! Nowadays we’d probably want to work on the second half of that sentence and try to get more people to read — anything. In 1902 Mr Walkley lays in on the sub-par selections made by the average passenger, attributable in his view to the trashy offerings at railway bookstalls.

William Henry Smith opened the first railway newspaper and bookstall on 1 November 1848 in Euston Station, just around the corner from where I started working in publishing 117 years later: the bookstall was still there. The company ran a lending library and printed “yellowbooks”, cheap reprints of public domain novels. For the same audience, Longmans initiated a traveller’s library series. History Today has an article recounting the story. In Scotland our railway bookstalls were run by John Menzies & Co. (which we’d pronounce Mingis) a company acquired by W. H. Smith in 1998.

If the offerings are any indication, people do seem to be reading fewer time-killers, and more decent books when they travel. Hudson News, present in so many U. S. airports and railway terminals seem to be expanding into non-travel bookstores, and have just announced the opening of their second “Ink by Hudson” store in Tucson. More are planned for later this year and beyond. While their store at Penn Station is already offering an impressively wide selection, their Ink stores feature a “contemporary style and indie-inspired design and ethos,” with an inventory of bestsellers, small press titles, classics, prizewinners and books by local authors or with a local focus. Hudson Group operates more than 950 stores in 83 airports, train stations and other transportation hubs in the U.S. and Canada.

And of course it’s airports we’d want to focus on now. A few weeks ago I was struck by the excellent, small selection at the bookshop in Edinburgh’s airport (not a Hudsons store of course). No doubt one of these days we’ll be worrying about filling- or electric-charging-station bookstalls as we all loll about in our autonomous vehicles. Some would say we’ll have no need of such retail outlets, having by then passed beyond anything as primitive as reading books on paper or buying things from a real place.