The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘genre fiction’

Curtains for the Editor

August 24, 2015 | by

Editors beware.

Over the weekend, I was attracted by the cover of a 1940s pulp paperback for sale on upper Broadway. The book was called Curtains for the Editor, and featured a bleeding body sprawled over a giant manuscript, so obviously I was sold before I’d even picked it up. But then when I turned it over, it was to find that the edition had even more to recommend it than the terrific title and vivid cover art: it was a Dell Mapback!

As any pulp lover knows, Dell produced these thrift editions—often mysteries, often hard-boiled—between 1943 and 1951. Each one was characterized by the detailed map on its back cover: often a “scene of the crime,” showing, say, the layout of a police station, a blueprint of a mansion, a neighborhood peopled with suspects and characters. There’s some variation depending on the artist, the plot, and the era; some maps are more stylized, others more colorful and precise. But all of them are “accurate” insofar as the plot goes, and they do give as good and tantalizing a glimpse into a book’s plot as any more conventional flap copy. Read More »

Strandelion, and Other News

April 2, 2015 | by


From a 1960 German postage stamp.

  • The politics of genre fiction: “the current preoccupations of the crime novel, the roman noir, the krimi lean to the left. It’s critical of the status quo, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly. It often gives a voice to characters who are not comfortably established in the world … The thriller, on the other hand, tends towards the conservative, probably because the threat implicit in the thriller is the world turned upside down.”
  • Mark Strand’s final interview takes a fittingly existentialist turn: “I don’t know why I was born ... here I am: a sentient being, talking about life. I had the luck to be born a human being who can speak. I might have been a dandelion or a goldfinch. I might have been a buffalo in the zoo. A fly! I don’t know why I’m here.”
  • Philip Pullman has a transcendently simple (and hyperrealist) way of working through writer’s block: “If you’re stuck, if you’re really desperate—dialogue: ‘Hello.’ ‘Oh hello.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Not too bad, thanks. How are you?’ ‘Not too bad.’ Half a page already.”
  • Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “was one of the only books that James Joyce, his eyesight fading, allowed himself to read while taking breaks from Finnegans Wake.” (Other admirers: Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, E. B. White, Sherwood Anderson, William Empson, and Rose Macaulay.)
  • Before he decamped for England and a lifetime of Anglophilia, T. S. Eliot “spent his formative childhood summers in a wood-shingled, seven-bedroom seaside house on Gloucester’s Eastern Point, built for his family in 1896.” The T. S. Eliot Foundation plans to turn the house into a writers’ retreat.

Terry Pratchett, 1948–2015

March 12, 2015 | by


The T-shirt Pratchett wore to conventions. Image via Fashionably Geek

The BBC has just reported that Terry Pratchett has died at sixty-six. Pratchett wrote more than seventy books, most of them part of his Discworld series: satirical, philosophical fantasy novels that earned him a wide readership, sometimes at the expense of the critical attention his work merits. “Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise,” his friend Neil Gaiman wrote of him last June, as he was beginning to slip away to Alzheimer’s. “He will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light … Terry Pratchett is not a jolly old elf at all. Not even close.”

Here’s a bit from Pratchett’s 2007 essay, “Notes from a Successful Fantasy Author: Keep it Real.” It speaks to genre fiction’s unique position as a vehicle for social commentary, and to the set of logic puzzles a fantasy novelist faces in trying to build a new world. You can find it in A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of his nonfiction published last year. Read More »

Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Glass Hat

February 11, 2015 | by

Richard Price and the evolving role of pseudonyms.


From the cover of The Whites.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, isn’t by Richard Price, except that it is. It’s by Harry Brandt, Price’s pseudonym, but it’s also not really by Brandt—Price’s name is on the cover, too, and so Price is Brandt, obviously, and it follows then that Brandt is Price, and thus, uh …

Let’s start over.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, is by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. It says so right there on the cover. Big deal, you might say; another author slumming it in genre fiction by creating a false identity for himself. But by publishing both his name and his pseudonym on the cover, Price has parted with centuries of pseudonymous convention. He hasn’t just pulled back the curtain. He’s brought up the house lights and waved to the audience. And he did it all, according to the New York Times, because he got sort of annoyed. Read More »


A Dissatisfaction with Life

January 19, 2015 | by


Patricia Highsmith on After Dark, 1988. Photo: Open Media Ltd.

You don’t agree with George Bernard Shaw’s idea that the artist is very close to the criminal?

I can think of only one slight closeness, and that is that an imaginative writer is very free-wheeling; he has to forget about his own personal morals, especially if he is writing about criminals. He has to feel anything is possible. But I don’t for this reason understand why an artist should have any criminal tendencies. The artist may simply have an ability to understand … I would much rather be an entertainer than a moralizer, but to call murder not a social problem I think is ridiculous; it certainly is a social problem. The word existentialist has become fuzzy. It’s existentialist if you cut a finger with a kitchen knife—because it has happened. Existentialism is self-indulgent, and they try to gloss over this by calling it a philosophy … I once wrote in a book of mine about suspense writing, that a criminal, at least for a short period of time is free, free to do anything he wishes. Unfortunately it sounded as if I admired that, which I don’t. If somebody kills somebody, they are breaking the law, or else they are in a fit of temper. While I can’t recommend it, it is an awful truth to say that for a moment they are free, yes. And I wrote that in a moment of impatience, I remember distinctly. I get impatient with a certain hidebound morality. Some of the things one hears in church, and certain so-called laws that nobody practices. Nobody can practice them and it is even sick to try … Murder, to me, is a mysterious thing. I feel I do not understand it really. I try to imagine it, of course, but I think it is the worst crime. That is why I write so much about it; I am interested in guilt. I think there is nothing worse than murder, and that there is something mysterious about it, but that isn’t to say that it is desirable for any reason. To me, in fact, it is the opposite of freedom, if one has any conscience at all.

Read More »


Oo, Those Awful Orcs, and Other News

January 5, 2015 | by


A Middle-earth Orc with a face only Edmund Wilson could hate. Illustration: Antoine Glédel, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Ursula K. Le Guin defends genre fiction: “When the characteristics of a genre are controlled, systematized, and insisted upon by publishers, or editors, or critics, they become limitations rather than possibilities … I love to remember Edmund Wilson, king of the realist bigots, squealing ‘Oo, those awful Orcs!’ and believing he’d made a witty and cogent critical point.”
  • The sordid history of the paperback, which democratized and scandalized: “When we look back on the mass-market-paperback phenomenon it’s hard to keep the Emily Brontës separate from the Mickey Spillanes. In the same year that Signet published I, the Jury, it also published reprints of books by James Joyce, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and Arthur Koestler. Paperback publishers made no effort to distinguish classics from kitsch.”
  • Where does zero come from? A mathematician traced the earliest-known written representation of the numeral to a seventh-century tablet in Cambodia: “It was important to recover this artifact with the earliest zero … there’s a monument to this great invention of the human mind, the ability to write something down that represents complete nothingness.”
  • A new year, a new occasion to police language. Presenting Lake Superior State University’s fortieth annual list of banished words, including curate, skill set, takeaway, and others you’d sooner cut your ears off than hear again. (It’s worth revisiting the lists from years past—in ’98, for instance, people were sick of da bomb, talk to the hand, and yadda yadda yadda.)
  • And while we’re on words: “What exactly is luxury? The concept is both slippery and divisive … The language associated with it is replete with qualifiers. It can be ‘authentic,’ ‘absolute,’ ‘aspirational’ or ‘affordable’ … The acquisition of luxury is both an attempt at transcendence and an act of appropriation, like the picking of the apple in the garden of Eden. Perhaps that was mankind’s first luxury good.”