Schools never assign the books you actually want to read. Or, if they do, they don’t read them the way you want to. Recently, pulp fiction seems to have been getting a bit of an airing on campuses, in classes with names like Pop Literacy and Cultural Trope Analysis, classes I took enthusiastically when I was in college. Still, they seem to miss the point. I’ve written papers trying to find the deeper intellectual elements of a pulpy book that prove, in the accepted academic terms, why it’s as great as I’d always suspected.
The problem, I realize now, is that the reason pulp fiction is great is because it’s fun, and fun is not something you can intellectualize very far. We study classic novels because they unlock deep, serious emotions or reveal uncomfortable truths about the human condition or represent a significant period in history. That is the stuff of seminars, theses and entire departments. We read pulp fiction because it’s fun.
Of course you can analyze pulp fiction. You can talk about how an author makes his or her book uniquely fun; the technique, the style, the subject; you can talk about different kinds of fun and how they might make us grow at the same time; you can delve into cultural themes in the content; but you can’t really explain a pulp novel’s greatness except with some variation on “It’s damn good fun.”
I’m on a crusade to prove that entertainment has value in itself, not just as a dose of sugar to help audiences swallow more important themes. Entertainment allows us to temporarily shut down our brains and waken later with emotions refreshed. Entertainment allows us to feel Big Emotions without shame; in the postmodern era, earnestness is considered a weakness, but entertainment gives us the opportunity to feel, earnestly.
Here are my top five seriously entertaining authors, beginning on the next page.