Pulp Fiction

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I recently finished reading my first Stephen King novel. It was The Shining. My mother selected this novel for Round 2 of our micro-unit reading challenge. (This is a challenge we came up with to choose a book we have previously read, something the other would likely not ever pick up regardless of the not-so-subtle prodding we may have given, but, that we think they may actually like. The reader must give the book a chance – at least 50 pages or so in – but may, of course, stop reading it if it simply is not their jam. It is a rather fun, exciting challenge. The big “book reveal” being our favorite part – such anticipation! The book I chose for her was Tender Is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica. Translated, speculative fiction – not her thing, but she’s almost through with it.)

As we were chatting about The Shining, I told her that she was right: It really wasn’t that scary. (I do not dig horror as a genre, it keeps me awake, I’m a chicken.) It also strongly differed from the movie. Even though I have never seen it, I still know of key scenes and the general storyline. (Spoiler alert: The ghost-y twin girls play no role in the book and there are hedge animals, not a maze.) What it was, to the both of us, is a bit campy. My mother told me she considered Stephen King a bit of a pulp fiction writer. I hadn’t considered his novels as pulp fiction, but then I realized it didn’t really know what, exactly, was considered ‘pulp fiction’.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘pulp fiction’ are “books about imaginary characters and events, produced in large quantities and intended to be read by many people but not considered to be of very good quality”. The new penny dreadfuls and dime novels, the first of ‘the pulps’ is considered to be Frank Munsey’s revamped Argosy magazine of 1896. His was the first to combine cheap printing, cheap paper (wood pulp) and cheap authors in one package.1 The Popular Magazine of 1905, followed the Argosy trend, but was the first to introduce the color covers.1 Following WWII is when the paperback market began to take off and over the pulp magazine1 and those campy paperbacks with boldly illustrated covers are what I always considered to be a pulp fiction novel. (Though, when I looked up the original artwork for The Shining book cover, it did fit the bill.)

I had envisioned ‘pulp’ as Goosebumps or Craig Shaw Gardner (The Other Sinbad: Check it out!). However, the way Stephen King churns out stories and, now having read one, the way they are written – lurid, dark, campy – I can definitely see how King could be considered a pulp fiction author. According to one article, he did get a start by selling short stories for men’s magazines, which was supposedly a later evolution of “the pulps”. Per another article at Inverse.com, he is the “King of Pulp Fiction” (a play on his last name, very fitting).

I wonder, is there is a new “pulp”? WritersMag.com says yes. A great mixture of authors across the spectrum are falling into and embracing this category, breaking previous male-dominated mold. This includes an influx of female authors and authors of color, such as Jemir Robert Johnson, Walter Mosley, K. Ceres Wright, and Lee Murray. I suppose, like any other trend, subgenres in literature wax and wane. It is refreshing to see some authors like Stephen King and Walter Mosley breaking out of the micro-community and into the ‘mainstream’, so to speak; exposing the outsiders to those refusing to fit the mold. I, myself, am not a huge reader of series novels and those I consider to be popular fiction (like Danielle Steele or James Patterson), they are just not my jam. But I do really appreciate the micro-communities that they create, such as those really into adventure-fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, or space operas.

I suppose what it really boils down to are the connections and bonds that literature can and does create. It helps us “find our people” and it allows us to open a window into communities we may otherwise not have stumbled upon. It also leads us down rabbit holes of self-education on topics and subjects that we were previously un-privy, such as pulp fiction. I so deeply cherish that about reading. It has the ability to throw a wrench into your well-worn tracks of thoughts and beliefs, inviting and challenging you into constantly questioning, changing and staying curious. Will I pick up another Stephen King novel? Maybe, maybe not, but I am glad I gave him a try.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.

1Pulp magazine. (2023, January 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_magazine


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