Pulp Fiction With a Side of Fries: The New American Pastime, and How to Avoid its Fiery Wrath
Today’s post is written by Fredrich Y., a high schooler, writer, and avid reader in Westerville, OH. Thank you, Fredrich, for sharing your thoughts with us! -Becky O’Neil, currently reading We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
In recent years it seems as if the general Western public has gotten the dangerous idea into their heads that anybody can write a book. Crazy, I know, right? This theory, albeit a major confidence booster, can be largely blamed for the large influx of undeniably, gut-wrenchingly awful literature.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, reader: “Why of course anybody can write a book!” And I know that. However, not anybody can write a good book. Anybody can pick up a pen and scribble down a few phrases here and there, but it takes a certain person to convince somebody to pay attention to the scribbles enough to care. Everybody, at some point in time, has flipped open to the first page of a book and instead of being filled with the sense of joy and elation that comes with great literature, has been afflicted with an irresistible urge to hurl it violently against a wall.
That isn’t to say that all books written by underqualified authors are trash – quite the opposite. This theory has contributed to the publication of amazing works such as the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Looking for Alaska, by John Green (a 2006 Printz Award winner), that have transformed an entire generation. However, every amazing novel published has its fair share of not-so-amazing counterparts filled with borderline fanfiction and sappy romance plots. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am calling your beloved Twilight, Chosen, and Nicholas Sparks novels pulp fiction.)
This is why I present to you:
Zombie Hunter Average Human’s Guide to Surviving Pulp Fiction
Detecting Pulp Fiction:
1. The Cover
Does the book cover look like something you want to barf at? Odds are, if it does, then the book will make you want to barf too. Yes, I am advising you to judge books by their cover. The cover can tell you more about the book than any excerpt or summary imaginable. Various warning signs include: holding hands, pretty faces, and almost naked teenagers. (Exceptions include the truly amazing Winger, by Andrew Smith, and Golden Boy, by Tara Sullivan)
2. The Title
Chances are you are already pretty attuned to this one, but it’s safe to remind you that if the book has the words love, romance, or moist in the title, it’s probably a no-go. Other warning signs are those awful one-word titles that are more commonly used as everyday nouns or verbs. Basically, if you could cut at least twenty copies of the title out of the front page of your newspaper, then you’ll probably want to pass on that one.
Turn the book over to the back and look at the reviews. (If there aren’t any, then that probably speaks for itself.) Do you recognize the names of the reviewers as authors of pulp fiction themselves? Does their review sound so cheesy that you need a bottle of wine to get through it? If the Daily Mail is even mentioned, you might need to disinfect your hands before doing anything else.
4. The Format of the Book
Is the book written in standard chapter – paragraph format, or is it a collection of letters? Are there brief poetic interludes filled with sappy metaphors? Also consider the font. Is it written in nice, respectable Cambria or Georgia, or is it one of those annoying loopy, cursive fonts? Is it bigger than 14 point, or even if not, does it look like a large-print special edition?
5. The Actual Book
If you’ve reached this step, you’re almost in the clear. Turn to a random page of the books and count how many times the word “friend,” either alone or part of another word, is included. If it’s more than you could think humanly possible, don’t bother looking any further. Now, go to the first page and read it. Have the main character’s parents been killed? Have they gone through some horribly traumatic event? Are they the spawn of a very important person or recognisable wherever they go? If so, too bad. If not, then congratulations, you have just found a pulp-free book to cherish into old age. You have conquered the failing writing education programs of America.
Finally, we must address the issue of what to do if you find yourself in possession of a pulp fiction novel. Do not panic. Do not scream. As much as you may want to, it is ill-advised to throw your book across the room in a blind rage whilst running to go sanitise your hands. What you must do instead is politely replace the book on the shelf patiently, walk away calmly and move on with your life. (Therapy sessions may be necessary to achieve the third point.) Remember: You will probably come across a pulp fiction novel at some point in your life. It’s better to be prepared than try and shelter yourself.
Not all young adult books are pulp fiction. Remember, the world hasn’t been consumed by a compilation of all the fiery horror and cannonballs that make up tumblr and fanfiction.net yet. The opposite of these tips are also true; funny covers and witty titles tend to make for interesting reads. (The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart and Going Bovine, by Libba Bray (a 2010 Printz Award winner), can often restore my faith in modern literature.) Great reads are out there; it’s up to you to find them.
You’ve made it. You have now successfully completed your preparation for the horror that is pulp fiction. Now it’s your turn to make a change. Unfortunately, in good faith I cannot recommend the violent destruction or removal of pulp fiction already existing, but the least you can do is not put any more into circulation. Write something decent. Write something and actually care about not killing your readers with an overload of cliches and metaphors. Be a young adult writer, sure (because America definitely needs more of those), but (and we mean this as kindly as possible) don’t suck at it. The war against awful literature is just beginning and we need you on our side.
- Fredrich Yeager, currently reading Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray