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American Pulp

American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street

Paula Rabinowitz
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    American Pulp
    Book Description:

    "There is real hope for a culture that makes it as easy to buy a book as it does a pack of cigarettes."-a civic leader quoted in a New American Library ad (1951)

    American Pulptells the story of the midcentury golden age of pulp paperbacks and how they brought modernism to Main Street, democratized literature and ideas, spurred social mobility, and helped readers fashion new identities. Drawing on extensive original research, Paula Rabinowitz unearths the far-reaching political, social, and aesthetic impact of the pulps between the late 1930s and early 1960s.

    Published in vast numbers of titles, available everywhere, and sometimes selling in the millions, pulps were throwaway objects accessible to anyone with a quarter. Conventionally associated with romance, crime, and science fiction, the pulps in fact came in every genre and subject.American Pulptells how these books ingeniously repackaged highbrow fiction and nonfiction for a mass audience, drawing in readers of every kind with promises of entertainment, enlightenment, and titillation. Focusing on important episodes in pulp history, Rabinowitz looks at the wide-ranging effects of free paperbacks distributed to World War II servicemen and women; how pulps prompted important censorship and First Amendment cases; how some gay women read pulp lesbian novels as how-to-dress manuals; the unlikely appearance in pulp science fiction of early representations of the Holocaust; how writers and artists appropriated pulp as a literary and visual style; and much more. Examining their often-lurid packaging as well as their content,American Pulpis richly illustrated with reproductions of dozens of pulp paperback covers, many in color.

    A fascinating cultural history,American Pulpwill change the way we look at these ephemeral yet enduringly intriguing books.

    Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6529-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Pulp: Biography of an American Object
    (pp. 1-39)

    During my research at the archives of the New American Library at New York University, I found a letter from a grateful reader describing how he’d stopped by the neighborhood candy store on the way home from choir practice to pick up a pack of cigarettes, grabbed a book along with the newspaper, and discovered, hours later, that he had spent the entire afternoon immersed in reading. Many other readers wrote in with similar stories. They wanted to let the publishers and authors know how much readily available cheap books meant to lonely readers in the middle of the last...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Pulp as Interface
    (pp. 40-81)

    Collecting is a passion, and we know from pulp fiction that passion is deadly. One hoards to stave off death—one’s own, obviously, but also of the object, the thing kept, kept among other things just like it. Books are supposedly among those items falling into disappearance as e-books replace paper and for various reasons become objects ripe for salvage.¹ Repositories of what has gone before them, collections are memento mori, reminders of the past. But at one time—the period I am investigating in this book, the late 1930s to the early 1960s, the era of the American Century...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Richard Wright’s Savage Holiday: True Crime and 12 Million Black Voices
    (pp. 82-108)

    “Americans don’t like being lied to by their leaders,” declared Frank Rich in aNew York Timesop-ed column, referring to the brouhaha over then president George W. Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan’s, 2008 memoir about the run-up to the Iraq War, “especially if there are casualties involved and especially if there’s no accountability. We view it asa crime story, and we won’t be satisfied until there’s a resolution.”¹ Frank Rich, who began his career at theTimesas a theater critic, taps into a pervasive tendency within modern(ist) American culture: an enduring fascination with sensational crimes and melodramatic...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Isak Dinesen Gets Drafted: Pulp, the Armed Services Editions, and GI Reading
    (pp. 109-130)

    During the Second World War more than sixteen million American men and women served in the nation’s armed forces. This large array of citizens represented a panoply of America—first-generation immigrants from Brooklyn ghettos, farmers from midwestern states, sharecroppers from the South, and out-of-work factory hands from the industrial heartland among them. Many had grown up in poverty as the Depression raged across their childhoods, often with little more than a meager education. In addition to mobilizing and training this enormously diverse population for warfare, the United States government saw an opportunity—extending the social service projects, such as the...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Pulping Ann Petry: The Case of Country Place
    (pp. 131-158)

    In 1947, Ann Petry’s second novel,Country Place, appeared to generally scathing reviews. José Yglesias, writing in the Communist Party–affiliated journalNew Masses, summed up responses by noting it was more suitable to “movies,” “woman’s magazine” or “lending library fare” so full of “formulas,” “banalities,” and “idiocy” that “even Ethel Barrymore could not quite come off” in the part of the rich old lady. In fact, he noted, “the one diversion the book offers” would be “to cast the book for the movies.”¹ TheNew York Timesnoted, “Gossip, malice, calculation, infidelity, adultery, murder, sudden death, and a set...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Señor Borges Wins! Ellery Queen’s Garden
    (pp. 159-183)

    A well-known Argentine writer, whose first poems dwelled on his love of the violent backstreets of his native Palermo neighborhood of this port city, and whose passion included murder mysteries played out on the silver screen, was, in the words of one of his many editors, “a lifelong movie fan.” A noted compiler of imaginary archival works, influenced greatly by the imaginary world of surfaces and planes of light and dark depicted by Josef von Sternberg in his early Hollywood explorations of desire and crime, Jorge Luis Borges was first published in English translation in the August 1948 issue of...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 7 Slips of the Tongue: Uncovering Lesbian Pulp
    (pp. 184-208)

    The department store, site of female consumer culture since the nineteenth century, demarcates a zone in which mostly middle-class women not only shop but in the process communally disrobe, sometimes literally together within a huge open space, occasionally under the supervising eye of the saleswoman, who monitors the cut and fit of the garments, more often alone before a full-length three-way mirror producing a solitary portrait. In another part of the modern cityscape, bohemia, female models shed their clothes and pose nude or draped in fabric for life drawing and painting classes in artists’ studios. Each scene—commercial and aesthetic...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Sci-Unfi: Bombs, Ovens, Delinquents, and More
    (pp. 209-243)

    Pulps were essentially products of the Second World War. Allen Lane had launched Penguin in 1935 and then, in 1939, Ian Ballantine brought Penguin to the United States for its American branch. But it was also “stolen,” as E. L. Doctorow recounted, by Robert de Graff and turned into an American product, reviving the paperbound book in the United States with Pocket Books and its kangaroo logo. During the war, the Council on Books in Wartime had joined with the army and navy to develop and deliver more than one hundred forty million paperback books to overseas servicemen and women,...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Demotic Ulysses: Policing Paperbacks in the Courts and Congress
    (pp. 244-280)

    In his statement in the landmark 1868 obscenity case,Regina v. Hicklin, a case that set the precedent for subsequent legal considerations of pornography and obscenity in both Great Britain and the United States, Lord Chief Justice Alexander Cockburn indicated that the fear provoked by obscene materials was not so much of its content but of its accessibility: “This work, I am told, is sold at the corners of streets, and in all directions, and of course it falls into the hands of persons of all classes, young and old, and the minds of those hitherto pure are exposed to...

  14. Coda: The Afterlife of Pulp
    (pp. 281-300)

    Still the residue of pulp haunts us in myriad ways. The many reminders of its place in our cultural history—but, more important, in our individual lives, at least those of us of a certain age—cannot be fully accounted for by any of the sources or ideas I have amassed. The Gathings Committee hearings lasted only a week in the midst of the Korean War. It was shrouded, you might say, by the Great London Smog that began on December 5, the final day of the hearings, continuing to December 9, when tens of thousands died from air pollution;...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 301-306)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 307-376)
  17. Index
    (pp. 377-390)