pulp fiction

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Any reading is good reading. Reading something stupid doesn’t make you stupid. And reading something you disagree with doesn’t mean you give up your beliefs.

As we said at book club, you need a balanced book diet. You can’t read nothing but Proust without burning out just like you can’t read nothing but dime-a-dozen mystery/romance/werewolf novels.

I heard at book club that pulp fiction takes it name because if they didn’t sell, publishers would pulp the books. They were so cheap that they’d just destroy them. So maybe it’s no wonder pulp fiction gets a bad name. It’s looked at as the literary novel’s trashy younger sister–you know, the one no one takes seriously and who you’d be embarrassed to take out on a date.

But good writing is an exception to the rule you get what you pay for. If it takes you somewhere new, if it’s entertaining, if you stretch your brain in a new way, well, that’s worth a lot. Even if it’s not serious, critically acclaimed, prize-winning writing.

But if it’s not award-winning, what is pulp fiction? Is it genre? Is it storytelling for a mass audience? How would you define it? Like the Supreme Court and pornography, I’ll know it when I see it. But it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference.

Before Ender’s Game became a novel-turned-movie coming out soon it was just the first book in a new science fiction series. Before Harry Potter vanquished Voldemort he was the main character in a new fantasy book. Charles Dickens’ novels first came out in parts in magazines. Sherlock Holmes is the star of the mystery genre, and Frankenstein’s monster the king of horror. But why are those novels considered literary instead of pulp? Why are they studied in school instead of trashed after reading?

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, and his books are often at the center of a literary versus pulp debate. His writing is clean and entertaining. His imagery and mood building are stunning. His characters and stories are human and lovely and scary and real. His books have symbolism and themes and other things lit classes love to analyze. But his work is prolific, easy to read, and sometimes contains monsters or twists in reality. So though he can write circles around most, he is often shoved into a less serious category.

It’s much more fun for me to read King than other “literary” works. I’ve never finished Pride and Prejudice (love the movie), but I couldn’t put down The Shining. Reading can be fun and easy and still worthwhile. So ease up, pulp-fiction haters.  Don’t you want to have some fun? Don’t you want to know how to tell a story that’s grabbed so many readers and held them at rapt attention?

That is a skill that few can do. So even if it’s not your favorite, you can learn from pulp. And you can stop looking down your nose at writers who have sold millions on millions of books.

So let’s cut this snobbiness out. My challenge to you is to pick a book in a genre you haven’t read before. Dive into a fantasy, a romance, a horror story, a mystery, and let’s meet back here and talk about it.

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