Reading Pulp

As much as I love reading literature, I also have a soft spot for pulp. By pulp, I mean Ian Fleming style spy fiction. I don’t mean what I’m doing reading Fifty Shades of Grey (which is nearly impossible to get through). I mean fun, lighthearted, enjoyable fiction that is riddled with errors.

Fleming is just such an author.

There is no possible way that it could be spun that the 007 series of books is in anyway literature or literary. The characters are relatively flat, the story lines are eccentric at times and tried in others, and the writing itself is in no way world class. They are, by all intents and purposes, bad books.

But I still read them.

What great pulp lacks in execution it often makes up for in imagination. Dan Brown is an example of a popular pulp writer. There is no justification for him being considered a literary writer or his novels being of much worth beyond the fad that he created through a publicist. Sure, he had movies made, but so did Fleming and Fleming has a bigger franchise. Great way to measure an author anyways. They’re pulpy escapes that we read once and put down once and for all after reading through the first time. The mysteries are solved through contrivances and the escapes seem less heroic the second time through. Pulp is an escape, Dan Brown is an escape.

The pulp that I consider good pulp, and is the reason why I read pulp, is Phillip K Dick. Only a handful of his novels are well written in any sort of way. The rest are substandard, some of the printings have typographical errors, and on the whole, they reek of 70s pulp sci fi. But I’ve read nearly all of his twenty odd books and a host of his short stories despite the shortcomings of his writing. I’ve read them all despite them being pulp.

This is because good pulp can capture the imagination. In fact, really good pulp, the kind we reread and not just once through for an escape, this captures our imagination more than most books. Pulp like Dick’s has to rapture us in order for us to overlook his writing abilities. He has to provide a new world each and every time full of detail that sucks us in over and over again. And his ideas have to be grand and potent.

It’s the main reason why I like reading pulp, good pulp. More often than not, the ideas expressed in good pulp seem to surpass the imaginations of literary writers. Few people, in my mind, have even close to the imaginative powers that Phillip K Dick do. And in reading pulp, I often find myself inspired as a writer to go after the ideas and not get as bogged down in the words. I still search for the right words and try my best to measure up to a literary standard, but I know that what makes someone read and reread a book is not necessarily how well written it is, it’s also the importance and grandiosity of the ideas contained in it.


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