Wednesday, March 22, 2023

29. Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette

No I did not read this book in a single day.  I've been reading it for at least a year maybe two, reading sections in between other complete books.  Surveys like this about books I am into are very challenging for me to read.  They can get repetitive and the content doesn't stick with me if I read them straight-through.  The real danger, though, is that they make me aware of all these other books I need to find and read. My overburdened hunting list and on-deck shelf (though I have cut into that this year) can not take the pressure.

I follow Andrew Nette on twitter who so often has cool recommendations and just shares great ephemera about old paperbacks and movies.  I admit to being envious to his many nice paperback finds in Australia.  They have a very different publishing world and had a much stricter censorship regime post-WWII so that there were fewer pulp books there.  Yet somehow the second-hand book stores seem much more fruitful than those we have in Canada today.  Anyhow, he is a serious student of the genre and has put together several books like this one.

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats is organized chronologically with each broad period of paperback fiction being given an essay or two, excerpts from the books, sometimes an interview with the author and most importantly, tons and tons of beautiful full-colour images of the covers.  The essays vary in quality, some are more factually-based histories of the various writers and the genre's impact on society (and vice-versa), whereas some try for social analysis.  There were too many and too spread out for me to remember any qualities aside sadly from one negative reaction to an essay on female and youth sexuality that was just bizarre and so wrong in its simplistic political assumptions that I almost wonder if it was done deliberately in a bad attempt at tongue-in-cheek humour.  Very questionable that it was included at all. 

Don't let that minor stain colour one's impression of the overall work, which is thorough and excellent.  This is kind of a must-have for anyone with an interest in paperbacks and will fill in many gaps for collectors. I also appreciated that it had a more Australian and British perspective, which was informative for me coming from North America.

In some ways, my favourite part was the very end where they got into the social issues books that came out in the 70s and early 80s of young adults and were often sold in schools.  Books like Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack and The Chocolate War.  These were very present in my childhood, though I think I was a bit young to read them but they always represented a kind of cool, older world.  I particularly liked the work of Molly Gratton (though they were short) and will check out her blog, Lost Classics of Teen Lit: 1939-1989.

You can buy this book in North America at PM Press.  You should!


Todd Mason said...

I've been meaning to pick this up for a while, but still haven't. (And, of course, the notion of "pulp books" still tends to grind my nerves, as it conflates pulp magazines and paperbacks, two related but distinct publishing formats with somewhat different sets of strictures and even appeal, for no really good reason, other than to be Hipster, which is particularly galling when it's Academic Hipster). That notwithstanding, I have engaged Nette on this subject, and even put him onto Brian Busby when he was looking for someone with considerable knowledge of Canadian popular lit.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yeah, it really should have been called Paperbacks and Youth Culture, but I don't think anybody is trying to be hipster here. Probably just trying for a broader marketing appeal.

Todd Mason said...

Sadly, the tendency to conflate pulps and paperbacks Very Much began with hipster academics, and their love of defining the likes of Marijane Meaker's lesbian paperback original novels as "lesbian pulp" and spread from there. The "marketing appeal" came of the Infra Dig Kewl of (eyebrow arched) Treating These Works As If They Were Art In Their Own Right, As Opposed To Only Becoming So When We Could Contextualize Them. PULP FICTION the film is one of the bastard children of this kind of thing.

Todd Mason said...

I forgot to mention how annoying Meaker, aka Vin Packer, Ann Bannon and M. E. Kerr, and a fully-realized artist, found this mislabeling of paperback originals as pulp fiction. And not she alone. (AHs: Because, you know, trashy covers. Quit bothering me about facts!--such as not all pulps and and not all paperback originals had trashy covers, nor do trashy cover make anything "pulp", much less qualify as pulp fiction, just because it makes one's thesis easier to argue.)