For some time now I have been eyeing my wife’s little stack of vintage 25-cent pulp novels on our bookshelf. Purely for research (of course), I grabbed a couple for a read and was surprised at what I found.
I expected pure trash: weak writing, one dimensional characters, and a pace that leaves one stumbling forward tumbling down hill through the fence at the bottom and into the muddy creek. Well, I’ll admit, they did lean in that direction, but not so far as to be dissimilar to the majority of mainstream, entertainment fiction of today. Therein lay the surprise.
Sometimes, nothing but a rip-roaring romp will do. But just because a story exists purely to entertain the reader, does not mean it should be considered any less valid than a story packed with morals, messages, and all manner of meandering meaning. A book does not always need to teach you anything, sometimes it is just the ride that makes a worthwhile read.
On the opposite side of the galaxy, I read Atonement a little while ago. For no particular reason other than I wanted to understand what all the fuss was about. I could not finish it. I need a little mystery in my reading, to work things out for myself from the clues in the writing, I do not want to hear about every little thought and feeling that enters every character’s head (one carefully chosen action or gesture could replace all that). Put four characters in a room together with this form of literary fiction, and reading becomes like wading through that good old muddy creek with concrete filled buckets tied to your feet. Some people must love that; it seems I do not.
My brief excursion into reading pulp fiction led to the unsettling discovery that this “low-brow” form of writing is actually more entertaining (something it sets out to achieve) than most of the self-published works I have (tried to) read to date. There are good ones out there, that’s for sure, but I have found too often a sense of the author wanting to write someone else’s – usually already published – book, trying too hard to emulate, failing, ending up with something that is lacking in its own voice and personality.
These pulp books never pretended to be anything but what they are. They did not try to emulate literary fiction within their genre. They did not try to explore lofty ideas. They did not expect to trigger extended conversations over the water cooler (did they have water coolers in such times?). They are simply an entertaining and fun read that leaves you with the feeling you have not wasted your valuable time. I’d like to read more like that.