The Serious Business of Pulp Fiction

How Paperbacks Helped Forge Our Modern Ideas about Sex, Race, and War

Cheap paperback books are like sex: They claim attention, elicit memories good and bad, and get talked about endlessly. The mid-20th century was the era of pulp, which landed in America in 1939.

You could pick up these paper-bound books at the corner drugstore or bus station for a quarter. They had juicy covers featuring original (and sometimes provocative) art, blurring the lines between canonical literature (Emily Brontë and Honoré de Balzac) and the low genres of crime, romance, and Westerns. Even fairly tame cover images grabbed attention. The Unexpected!, …

My Country ’Tis a Book

Are We Still Searching for ‘The Great American Novel’?

Most credentialed literary critics disdain it as a grandiose hyperbole, and creative writers tend to speak of it in jest. But for almost 150 years, all of us—writers, readers, cultural …

Language is Not Always a Question of Logic

Some people keep artificial plants, others artificial hearts.
Some keep nothing. It does not matter. The truth of the world
has nothing to do with the real. Every day the …

The Gift

An L.A. Christmas Story

New York has

Why Can’t Older Californians Act Like Grown-Ups?

While an Aging Generation Has More and More Fun, Young Californians Are Stuck on a Treadmill of Work and Responsibility

At a moment like this, younger Californians should read Mona Simpson.

The novelist, who is also a UCLA English professor, may be best known these days as Steve Jobs’ biological …

What Came First—the Fiction or the Science?

Hieroglyph

Did most astronauts grow up watching Star Trek—and is it possible they learned anything useful from the adventures of the USS Enterprise? Is it coincidence that Isaac Asimov was the …