So, you’re standing in an airport and, once again, you’ve committed the cardinal sin of bringing along the wrong book for your trip. In my case, the wrong book was Paradise Lost, which, though a cultural keystone, is not exactly light reading.
So what does one do? You head for the newsstand, of course (I like reading on paper – I spend a lot of time writing on a computer, so the paper experience represents a break) and look for one of the staples of my airport reading.
In this particular case, I picked up the April 2017 edition of Scientific American (when it arrived unread, I tossed it into the TBR pile, which is why I’m just now writing about it–publications take forever to cycle through my TBR pile).
Now, looking at the cover, it’s easy to wonder why I’d have picked that one up. I’m not particularly interested in Alzheimer’s research (ask me again in thirty years and you may get a different view), and water and conspiracy theories aren’t my passion either (although I will admit to being intrigues by supermassive black holes). The thing is, none of that made any difference. I picked it up with little thought for the articles listed, because Scientific American is a publication I like to read.
I like it so much, in fact, that I used to subscribe a couple of decades back.
Why? Because it straddles the gap between National Geographic and things like Science or the New England Journal of Medicine nearly perfectly. It speaks to the more educated layman as opposed to the specialist or the person who is curious but, perhaps doesn’t have enough training to be able to follow a overly scientific language.
It lands in that sweet spot that, though inhabited by relatively few people, is inhabited primarily by people who read. The demographic is probably very similar to readers of The New Yorker or Fine Books and Collections. It’s a world of polymaths and, hopefully of Classically Educated readers.
And the fact that every single airport newsstand in the US has copies of this one is no coincidence: Airports probably concentrate a higher proportion of potential readers than any street corner location outside of certain university towns or business centers. Polymaths are, by their very nature, the kind of people who fly from one place to the other.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story author. His latest book is entitled The Malakiad, and combines his fascination for history, Greek Mythology, anachronism, humor and Monty Python. You can check out the ebook here and the paper version here.