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Airport Novel

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"Do you have anything by Robert Ludlum?"
"Get out!"

"It is a simple universal law [that] people always expect to use a holiday in the sun as an opportunity to read those books they've always meant to read, but an alchemical combination of sun, quartz crystals and coconut oil will somehow metamorphose any improving book into a rather thicker one with a name containing at least one Greek word or letter (The Gamma Imperative, The Delta Season, The Alpha Project and, in the more extreme cases, even The Mu Kau Pi Caper). Sometimes a hammer and sickle turn up on the cover. This is probably caused by sunspot activity, since they are invariably the wrong way round."

The junk food of the literature world: a paperback you buy cheaply at an airport bookshop to fill your time during a flight. Maybe you finish it in the hotel room; maybe you save it for the return trip. Either way, you know perfectly well that, as much of a page-turner it may be, you just bought it for the lack of anything else to do.

Usually light reading — the airport novel isn't something you seek out for profound thoughts, philosophical insight or masterly writing; it's just something to take the boredom and discomfort of travel away for a few hours. It has to be engaging and exciting, though — a story that wades through 200 pages of Expospeak before getting to the good stuff isn't doing its job. Get to the action and/or romance, already!

It is usually a derogatory term — "Get your nose out of the airport novel and read something worthwhile!" — but Tropes Are Tools. Done well, Airport Novels might be deliciously campy or even So Bad, It's Good. What were you going to spend that $6.99 on, anyway? Some people even actively seek them out as a literary equivalent to the Unabashed B-Movie Fan.

On the other hand, some decent authors write or have written Airport Novels, including the famous author Stephen King.

Also called a Beach Book; or, in French, romans de gare ("railway station novels"). Fantasy books in the genre are called airport fantasy.

Airport Novels are not defined so much by content — they can encompass Clancy-style techno-thrillers, crime fiction, romance novels, High Fantasy, and others — but by social function. They are almost always Doorstoppers, yet with simplistic writing that's easy to read quickly, and often feature a misleadingly lurid cover. If not, expect a sequel that follows up some much more popular work like a leech; Pride and Prejudice sequels are popular, as are Biblical Fan Fiction.

These books are always of cheap manufacture, rarely designed to last more than one or two readings. Often seen as the Spiritual Successor to the Pulp Magazine. Compare Extruded Book Product.

Remember that just because you didn't buy it in an airport doesn't make it high-brow literature, and likewise, if you did buy a book at an airport that doesn't necessarily make it an airport novel; you can get the likes of American Gods in airport bookstores. Some modernized airports have dedicated bookstores whose catalog could rival any normal one, or even the ability to "rent" a book - read it, return it when you come back (or to another location that has the same chain) and get something like half back what you paid.

Despite the fact that anyone who can afford a plane ticket can probably afford something to read an eBook on, this is still a ways from becoming a Dead Horse Trope. Paper books don't need batteries, are less devastating to lose one, and some airlines still insist you turn off electronic devices during takeoff and landing. Many airport novels are also published as eBooks nowadays.

Common tropes:

  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': If you're a villain in one of these books, you will get what's coming to you. Even if it's on the last page and you were basically home free. Unless you're in a horror-genre novel, in which case you do have a fair chance of getting away with it all.
  • Cliché Storm: Practically a given.
  • Detective Drama: A common plot for airport mysteries is to follow a shockingly gruesome crime, usually by a Theme Serial Killer. Expect lots of gory descriptions of the killer's victims.
  • Doorstopper: You need something to fill up that 5-hour flight!
  • Extruded Book Product: Most airport novels fall into a few genre archetypes (romance of the previously heartbroken, techno-thriller, police investigation story, etc.), and within an archetype are somewhat indistinguishable from each other.
  • Happily Ever After: For the main protagonists and their allies, 99% of the time.
  • Lady Not-Appearing-in-This-Game: The cover typically has miscellaneous fanservice to balance it out, though (see below).
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: As the page quote illustrates, an Airport Novel is likely to be titled this way, especially after the popularity of The Da Vinci Code.
  • Ms. Fanservice/ Mr. Fanservice: Regardless of the actual genre of the book, it's almost guaranteed to have at least one shameless sex scene involving one or both of these.
  • Parent with New Paramour: This is also a common plot for the romance type. Usually subtype 1, where the kid takes a shine to the suitor and tries to nudge their parent along.

Alternative Title(s): Airport Fantasy, Beach Book