“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 of English at the University of Minnesota. Her books include Black & White & Noir: America’s Pulp Modernism, and she is the coeditor of Habits of Being, a four-volume series on clothing and identity.
"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
"Paula Rabinowitz's eloquent and persuasive history of mid-twentieth-century pulp paperbacks provides long-overdue recognition of the role these physically humble but culturally powerful books played in our society. The pulps were scorned by literary critics and flayed by clucking Congressional committees, fearful of their effect on the young. But, as Rabinowitz shows, they were carriers of literacy, modernity, and cultural awareness such as America had never seen before. We who wrote pulps never dreamed that a sophisticated and caring critic would one day give our efforts such thoughtful attention."--Ann Bannon, author of The Beebo Brinker Chronicles (1957–1962)
"American Pulp is a masterful achievement—elegantly written, impressive in scope, keenly attentive to nuance, and essayistic in the best sense of the word. Deftly interweaving published reminiscences, archival material, and personal memories and anecdotes, Rabinowitz provides a cultural history of how the pulps helped fashion new identities in midcentury America. She also chronicles an American love affair with books, reminding us that they are an essential part of cultural experience."--Priscilla Wald, Duke University
Table of Contents:
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