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American Pulp:
How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street
Paula Rabinowitz

Winner of the 2015 SHARP DeLong Book History Book Prize, The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing

Paperback | 2016 | $22.95 | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780691173382
408 pp. | 5 x 8 | 24 color illus. 42 halftones.
Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691150604
408 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
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"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 Pulp tells 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 Pulp tells 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 Pulp is richly illustrated with reproductions of dozens of pulp paperback covers, many in color.

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

Paula Rabinowitz is professor emerita of English at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Black & White & Noir: America's Pulp Modernism.


"[L]ively. . . . Rabinowitz is on to something."--Louis Menand, New Yorker

"Rabinowitz's work is a prime example of literary scholarship and essential key to the history of American publishing."--Publishers Weekly

"Rabinowitz makes a persuasive case for the role of pulp in widening the landscape of Americans' experience. . . . An ardent collector of pulp fiction, Rabinowitz brings to this scholarly study a passion for the genre and an authoritative analysis of its meaning in American culture."--Kirkus Reviews

"[Rabinowitz] writes with briskness and acuity. The historical richness of the material is leavened by a lively, broadminded, and humane sense of her culture. But most important, she writes with affection for the profound effects of her subject."--Ron Slate, On the Seawall

"Alluring topics and insightful writing make this a book that should appeal to anyone interested in how reading--and books--change us."--David Keymer, Library Journal

"Offers a thoughtful, provocative take on pulp and its influence on American culture, in art, in film--and how the dime-store publications provided new platforms for gay, lesbian, and African American writers, too."--Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Paula Rabinowitz has written a fascinating book with much in it to interest anyone curious about aspects of publishing in the 1940s and 1950s. It has a striking cover, ample notes, and some fascinating illustrations."--Jim Burns, Northern Review of Books

"Unfailingly fascinating."--Greil Marcus, Barnes and Noble Review

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
1 Pulp: Biography of an American Object 1
2 Pulp as Interface 40
3 Richard Wright's Savage Holiday: True Crime and 12 Million Black Voices 82
4 Isak Dinesen Gets Drafted: Pulp, the Armed Services Editions, and GI Reading 109
5 Pulping Ann Petry: The Case of Country Place 131
6 Señor Borges Wins! Ellery Queen's Garden 159
7 Slips of the Tongue: Uncovering Lesbian Pulp 184
8 Sci-Unfi: Bombs, Ovens, Delinquents, and More 209
9 Demotic Ulysses: Policing Paperbacks in the Courts and Congress 244
CODA The Afterlife of Pulp 281
Acknowledgments 301
Notes 307
Index 377

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