Airport novel  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Airport novels represent a literary genre that is not so much defined by its plot or cast of stock characters, as much as it is by the social function it serves. An airport novel is typically a fairly long but fast-paced novel of intrigue or adventure that is stereotypically found in the reading fare offered by airport newsstands for travellers to read in the rounds of sitting and waiting that constitute air travel. Perhaps it will be finished in the hotel room that awaits them at the end of the journey; perhaps it will be saved for the return trip.

Considering the marketing of fiction as a trade, airport novels occupy a niche similar to the one that once was occupied by pulp magazine fiction and other reading materials typically sold at newsstands and kiosks to travellers. This pulp fiction is one obvious source for the genre; sprawling historical novels of exotic adventure such as those by James Michener and James Clavell are another source. In French, such novels are called romans de gare, "railway station novels", suggesting that writers in France were aware of this potential market at an even earlier date.


Meeting the reading needs of travelers

An airport novel must necessarily be superficially engaging, while not being particularly profound or philosophical, or at least, without such content being necessary for enjoyment of the book. The reader is not a person alone, in a quiet setting, contemplating deep thoughts or savouring fine writing; the reader is being jostled and penned among strangers, and seeks distraction from the boredom and inconveniences of travel. The writer of an airport novel must meet the needs of readers in this situation.

The realisation that this niche market for mass market paperbacks had given rise to a new genre was slow in coming. Perhaps a defining moment in the history of the genre came in 1968, when Arthur Hailey published Airport, an airport novel that used the commercial flight industry to frame an adventure yarn about a disaster in an airport. Hailey's other novels, soap opera tales with complex plots of adultery and intrigue featuring business characters, using a number of other industries as backdrops (e.g. The Final Diagnosis (hospitals); Hotel (hotels); Wheels (automobile industry); The Moneychangers (banking)) represented an emerging genre.


Airport novels are always paperback books of a small but thick format. These books are seldom made to last, printed on inexpensive newsprint, and they often begin to fall apart after one or two readings. This is not a problem for their intended purpose; they are made to be bought on impulse, and their readers often discard them when finished.

Airport novels are typically quite long books; a book that a reader was able to finish before the journey was done would similarly be unsatisfying. Because of this length, the genre attracts prolific authors, who use their output as a sort of branding; each author is identified with a certain sort of story, and produces many variations of the same thing. Well known authors' names are in letters larger than the title on the covers of airport novels, often in embossed letters.


Airport novels typically fall within a number of other fictional genres, including:

Whatever the genre, the books must be fast paced and easy to read. The description "airport novel" is mildly pejorative; it implies that the book has little lasting value, and is useful chiefly as an inexpensive form of entertainment during travel. Airport novels are sometimes contrasted with literary fiction; so that a novel with literary aspirations would be disparaged by the label.

Writers of airport novels

Writers whose books have been described as airport novels include:

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Airport novel" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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