Friday, May 21, 2010

Janet Evanovich: Short, Sweet & Trashy, Just The Way I Like 'Em

It took an English PhD candidate from Worcestershire (Chloe) to introduce me to some of the trashiest - and funniest - reading out there.  But before I tell you why I love Janet Evanovich's books, I've got to tell you a story.

The summer after I turned 13, my mom thought it would be a brilliant idea to supplement my junior high education (remember, this is the summer before I entered 7th grade) with a course at our local community college (that's a two-year "university" for continuing students, mature students, and non-traditional students, for all you Brits out there).  My mother was an advocate of summer home schooling, although she'd never call it that.  Yes, while other kids enjoyed the sun and played in the sprinkler in their backyards, sucking on different flavoured popsicles, my brother and I spent our summers in front of the screen door of our deck at the kitchen table, with our heads propped up with one hand and sweat beading on our foreheads - doing math problems.  Or writing essays (which my mother would grade harshly, by the way).  And not just any math problems - timed ones.  Yes, she'd put the egg timer on and we'd have approximately 15 minutes to finish an entire booklet of arithmetic.  Every summer, before we entered into a new grade, she'd hand us a thick booklet of math problems for the grade above.  "But what's the point if I'm ahead?" I whined.  "I'll be bored."  "That's exactly the point," my mother snapped.  "You'll whizz through what the other kids are doing."  (For the record, by the time we got to high school, she had lost all control on us and I ended up scoring a big fat 1 (the lowest grade is 0) on the AP Calculus exam and a C- in my college Calculus class.)  To hone any semblance of writing skills I could have possibly possessed at that age, she insisted I produce one, formulaic, three paragraph essay arguing the finer points of topics she came up herself, such as, "Should the death penalty be abolished?  Explain." at the top of my notebook in red ink and she graded from a scale of A-F (if it was a C or below, I had to re-do - listen, I couldn't even make this up if I tried).  And you wonder why I have anxiety issues ...

But I digress.

So my mother marched me to the office of the Dean of Admissions at Pierce College that summer and requested that I be enrolled in an English 101 course.  The Dean peered over her desk at my purple-rimmed glasses, spotty face, and braces.  She smiled and said sweetly, "Name an author you enjoy reading."  "Um ..." I stuttered, trying to think.  "Well, I really enjoy Agatha Christie ... and ... um ... Mary Higgins Clark."  She sniffed condescendingly:  "Well, Mary Higgins Clark is really airport literature.  I'm not sure you'd be ready for a class here.  She'll have to take an entrance exam, you know," she said to my mother, who only nodded excitedly.  Great.  Another fantastic way to spend my summer vacation.  In a sweaty room with overachieving high school "Running Start" students who rolled their eyes at me and some over enthusiastic 40-year-olds with two kids looking for a fresh start in life.  So I sat there and filled in bubbles for about an hour and a half, then dutifully stood by as the administrator scanned my answers through a machine.  10 minutes later, we were called back into the Dean's office.  "Well," she said, huffily.  "It seems as though your daughter is qualified to take our English 200 course."  My mother smiled.  "But," she continued.  "I'm not sure she'd be ready for the subject material - we do have to deal with some ... ahem, adult themes."  My mother shrugged.  She was willing to overlook this despite not allowing me to watch MTV at home. 

Anyway, that summer came and went and I actually had a great time in that class with a hearing impaired professor to whom I penned my own version of Oedipus Rex (and she promptly displayed on her office door), as I found it completely silly at the time.  I had my first introduction to some of the greatest poets and prose writers that I would continue to study later in high school and college. 

But that's a long way of explaining what the term "airport literature" reminds me of today - the Dean's upturned snootiness in response to my pubescent innocence (think she had expected me to cite Horace and Shakespeare instead).  And Janet Evanovich's writing fits my definition of airport literature - that is, books you can kick back and relax with, giggle over and allow to lazily float in and out of your brain without any effort at all.  Hers was the book Chloe grabbed off her shelf when I complained my brain was being mashed into oblivion by our frequent graduate seminars - not Webster, not Marlowe, but Evanovich - mastermind of a sassy, spunky, and sexy character named Stephanie Plum. 

I'm not ashamed.

Because I'd rather read about Stephanie's New Jersey bounty-hunting adventures and tangled web of love interests (not to mention pages that are chock-full of totally un-PC references, like Lula's terrible "black"-speak, for example and other casual racism that I let slide because I'm enjoying myself so much) than dissect Foucault on a plane, personally.  And yes, the covers are embarrassing and scream, "I'M READING ABSOLUTE CRAP", but hey, I like to display them loudly and proudly.  Yes, I'm reading absolute crap, but I don't care what you think (okay, I do care, a little bit). 

I don't want to give away too much about the books, so next time you're in a W. H. Smith at Heathrow or a similar airport bookstore, pick up one of books in the Stephanie Plum series and settle yourself in for the long flight.  It's more than airport literature - it's comfort literature.

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