Popular fiction owes its beginning to social, economic, and industrial advancements occurring at nearly the same point in time. In the mid 19th century, as larger populations were becoming literate and could afford a nickel or a dime to spend on reading material, printing and shipping costs were lowering and efficiencies of presses and transportation were rising. In industrialized cultures, this convergence of trends enabled publishers to develop new markets in the printed word. The printing industry in America began this fledgling enterprise, aimed mostly at young working class men, with what were coined "dime novels." The dime novels flourished until the early 1900's when interest declined due to other distractions -- most notably silent films and pulp magazines. New clientele were sought and a new genre, often called "pulp fiction," developed-- this time aimed directly at adults. Between WWI and WWII, pulp fiction became a dominant force in popular culture. Appealing to a growing population, reaching out to women as well, more themes were introduced and nearly all continue today. During the heyday of pulp, fierce competition arose- publishers and writers came and went- and the art of advertising the book grew. Book covers, always used to stimulate interest, became even more outlandish.
Book cover design continues to challenge the best of illustrators who, through the impact of one very small image, attempt to entice the browser to pick up a book and buy or borrow it. Setting aside the adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover," the cover becomes a way for readers to determine quickly the genre and whether a book is "high" "middle" or "low" brow. Successful examples, as well as some questionable ones, will be featured in the exhibit. And while the academic world may shun the commercial nature of best sellers and popular fiction, there is no denying the significant social impact these writings carry in our modern world. It is, after all, one of the first and longest lasting aspects of our "common knowledge." As a result, the influence of popular literature is a subject of academic research in many disciplines. The exhibit aims to encourage viewers to examine the role of popular literature in their own lives and in society at large.
This exhibit coincides with the introduction of a new collection in the library. Responding to requests from students for access to popular literature, the Babbidge Library has established the Abbie Jean Quick Leisure Reading Collection, including current popular fiction and non-fiction in a variety of genres. The library will fill the shelves of a recently renovated area on Level B with thrillers, romances, science fiction, fantasies, biographies, and more. Students have been quick to recommend the authors they want to read—and the names are familiar. Some of their top choices are the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and books by Sandra Brown, Paulo Coelho, Clive Cussler, Nora Roberts, and Kurt Vonnegut, to name a few.
Babbidge Library, Gallery on the Plaza
Curator: Jane Recchio