Read More Trashy Books! For Free!

My twin literary passions are at the absolute opposite ends of the spectrum: great literature, and pulp “trash.” I have no interest in almost anything  in between.

I love the Western canon: Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Dickens, Trollope, Yeats, Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and similar hacks.

And I love vintage pulp fiction and comics: Doc Savage, The Shadow, Doyle, Burroughs, Silver Age DC, and similar masterworks of low art.

Your middlebrow modern novelists? Can’t stand them.

Don DeLillo? I’d rather have dental work.

Cormac McCarthy? Unreadable. Use a friggin’ comma, pal. They’re free.

As for modern pop fiction, Twilight may not be as painful to read as T. Coraghessan Boyle, but meyerpires are insipid imitations of Stoker, LeFanu, Sturgeon, and King. Why bother?

I love the craft of good writing, but I also love the raw energy and invention of the pulp writers. These guys could turn out a novel in less than a week. Walter B. Gibson or Lester Dent could do 10,000 pretty good words a day. Plus commas! 

And the stories smoked. Your average Doc Savage novel moves with a giddy energy and sense of invention that is just gone from modern fiction.

And now, thanks to Open Culture, I’ve learned about something wonderful. I don’t know how I missed it.

It’s called The Pulp Magazines Project and it houses full copies of over two hundred individual issues of sixty three different titles from the United States, England, and Australia, including Black Mask, All-Story, Argosy, Adventure, Sea Stories, Ginger Stories, Amazing Stories, and so on.

This diversity is part of its charm: it’s not just limited to science-fiction or horror or crime, but to the whole range of pulp fiction, including romance, sports, wilderness, Americana, and war stories

The issues have have clear, beautiful scans and are readable in a flip-book format for computers or as downloadable PDFs, for mobile devices. The entire site is iPad-friendly.

The scans include the ads, which are essential for the experience.

Pulp magazines were what people did for entertainment before TV and even radio, and writers from Dickens to Lovecraft to Fitzgerald to Jack London to Hammett published in this cheap format. These were stories for the average guy and gal, and as such they are a priceless window into the past, as well as far more entertaining than almost anything on TV right now.

Check ‘em out! 

UPDATE: Sean Dailey adds a word from GKC:

“The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared…. The average man or boy writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call Penny Dreadfuls, a plainer and better gospel than any of those iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as their bonnets…. The poor–the slaves who really stoop under the burden of life– have often been mad, scatter-brained, and cruel, but never hopeless. That is a class privilege, like cigars. Their drivelling literature will always be a “blood and thunder” literature, as simple as the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.” –G.K. Chesterton, “A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls”

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.