One of our late volunteers always referred to Room 4, where we sell mysteries, science fiction, and romance at the Book Fair, as “the cheap and easy room”. I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t understand why we feel the need to mock what someone else is reading. Yeah, if I get on the 151 bus and find someone is reading “How To make methamphetamines”, I will move quickly down the aisle. But what do I care whether someone is studying a Higher Real Estate Sales Through Higher Self Esteem instead of Ghost Cats and The Women Who Love Them? I was considering some of the pejorative terms we’ve added to our language just for the purpose of sneering at someone else’s reading.
Dime Novel: One of the first synonyms in this country for “cheap paperback trash” was “dime novel”, which got its start in 1860 when a fellow named Beadle sold paperback adventure stories and charged a dime for them. (England started earlier with its Penny Dreadful, and there were echoes of that in the horror some parents felt on finding their children reading Dime Novels.) “Dime Novel” was still being used as a term for cheap, thrilling stories well into the twentieth century but it was gradually replaced by
Pulp Fiction: Cheap magazines with cheap fiction were printed on cheap paper made of wood pulp. Pulp magazines were popular in the United States from about the time of World War I through just after World War II, when magazine distribution changed, and the cheap paperback novel kind of assumed their role. The mysteries, westerns, gothics, and such which filled the paperback racks were often referred to as pulp fiction, after the stuff in the magazines. This term was dying off until it came back as a movie title, and I now sometimes get boxes of books marked “pulp fiction”. I don’t go to many movies, so I regard this as an anachronism.
Pocket Book: In our country, the modern paperback book begins with an experiment by an outfit calling itself Pocket Book, which published an edition of The Good Earth for Christmas, 1938. The format took root (in good earth) and for many years people referred to any paperback book as a pocket book, greatly annoying bantam, Avon, Signet, Gold Medal, and other paperback book publishers. I know a few people who still do, even though pocket Books itself belongs to a company which uses the imprint on hardcover books.
Bodice Ripper: Once upon a time, a lot of my volunteers referred to all paperback romances as bodice-rippers, though technically, this applies to historical romances (the heroines of contemporary romances seldom refer to their bodices, and don’t very often keep them on long enough to have them ripped off.) The classic bodice-rippers come from the 1940s–Forever Amber, and the works of Frank Yerby–though several dictionaries claim the phrase was not used until 1980.
Sci Fi: I know a number of authorities who regard the phrase “sci fi” as derogatory, feeling it is a phrase used by non-fans who would also uses phrases like “pulp fiction” or “bodice ripper”. I’m abivalent on this, myself. If you notice the boxes at the Book Fair, you’ll have seen that I label them “Sci Fi”. This is because what these authorities prefer we use instead “SF” just isn’t long enough to use as a box label. Besides, I have a lot of customers these days for Sci Fi Bodice Rippers. More even than I have for those Success through Self-Esteem books, which, by the way, have also had a lot of nasty nicknames. But that’s another blog for another day. (Yes; Gone With the Wind is considered by some people to be the greatest of all bodice rippers. Or was that Rhett Butler?)