In defense of pulp fiction

So lately, it’s come to my attention that there are some serious literature snobs that walk among us. Now I still have all of my English textbooks and reading material from college, but that doesn’t mean that I read Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” for poops and giggles. I’ll get out my hardcore reading materials sometimes when the mood strikes or when I need to look up a reference, but in general, I read “pulp fiction.” Now I thought I was snobby for still having my lit books, but no, there are people who refuse to read anything but “classics” and nonfiction because pulp fiction books are “beneath” them. I so do not get this attitude.

I’ll keep my argument for pulp fiction short and sweet. Just because most things that a published now aren’t “high brow” doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth reading. They still have similar themes as classics, and they often make allusions to classics. The difference is, they’re more accessible to the general public. And when you’re a writer, you have to ask yourself, is making my message a literary piece of genius and art more important than making that message readable and enjoyable for a larger audience? Honestly, I always veer towards the latter because the purpose of my own writing is to change someone’s life like books changed mine. Even just one person is fine with me. I’m sure the James Joyce is very proud of his “Ulysses,” but most people put it on their shelves to look smart and actually haven’t read it. Hell, I have it on my shelf from my Irish literature class, and I’ll admit right off that it confused the hell out of me and the message wasn’t worth all the digging that it took to get to it, so I switched to SparkNotes a few chapters in. And an entire chapter without punctuation? Oh my god, shoot me now. It was cute for a few pages but after a while I just felt like my brain was melting.

Pulp fiction doesn’t always dumb down messages, it just doesn’t beat you over the head with them like I feel that hardcore literature does. And pulp fiction can open someone’s interest for “higher reading.” I can’t believe that I’m about to defend the Twilight Saga, but I have to admit that it’s done some good for reading in a younger generation. Some of the classics have been redone with Twilight-esque covers and little seals that say “Bella’s Favorite Book” (Wuthering Heights) or “Edward and Bella’s Favorite!” (Romeo and Juliet). Now when I was working at a bookstore, these editions were actually quite a pain in the ass (I hate having identical titles shelved in different sections of the store based on covers or editions; it makes everything so much more complicated). But I can appreciate the fact that maybe Twilight has done something good in terms of getting younger girls to read more classics. 

The point is that pulp fiction has an impact on popular culture which makes it relevant to read. Yes, we should not forget the classics, but unless you’re a lit scholar or professor, reading only the classics greatly hinders your common knowledge. I believe that a healthy dose of both is necessary for a well-rounded individual. Which means that I really have to beef up my nonfiction/classics reading because I generally just read the pulp fiction. I read the newspaper on the Metro ever morning and listen to CNN while I cook dinner; when I sit down to read for myself, I try to escape this world and live in one more fantastic for just a little while. Everyone needs an escape from reality sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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2 responses to “In defense of pulp fiction

  1. I’ll be the first to admit I tend to avoid pulp fiction and smut. But then again, fantasy and sci-fi novels comprise a large portion of what I do read, and an awful lot of those are entertainment for entertainment’s sake, rather than the vehicles of a message. So while I do think they’re a few steps above what you might find in an airport terminal, I’m happy to admit that most of them aren’t great works of fiction.

    We’ve discussed my feelings on certain types of books before. I see nothing wrong with reading for reading’s sake, but a book that’s really worth reading is something that will stay with you. It may not have the biggest message, but something in it should touch you and become a part of you.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Michael Crichton phase when I was a kid, but those books are never going to be more than a “literary sit-com” – easy to digest and easy to forget. If that leads to more and better things, fine.

    I actually agree with you on that point about the Twilight books. Sure, they’re trash, but I’m a lot more interested in the fact that they encourage folks to read than the so-called “dangers” of reading about a (let’s face it) abusive and dysfunctional relationship. There will always be fanatics who take things too far, but in the meantime, I don’t quite have it in me to argue that popularized smut can’t make a difference, too.

    • Yeah, I thought that I avoided “pulp fiction” as well, and you definitely know my views towards smut and romance. But apparently, anything that’s not academically relevant is considered pulp fiction to some. I think that this is very harsh and unfair because there is no absolute list of what’s academic and what’s not. Also how can you lump such a large and diverse group together? If this is the case, then all pulp fiction books are definitely not created equal.

      I mean, what about Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials? I’m sure that most people wouldn’t consider them academic, but they’re leagues better than Twilight in terms of message, style, and just about everything else.

      I used to consider pulp fiction the bottom of the barrel, where books go to die situation. More like there were three categories of books: Academic/classics, most fiction, pulp fiction. And in my case pulp fiction would mostly be the cheap Westerns, Romance, and formulaic mysteries. But apparently, this interpretation was incorrect.

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