Tuesday 16 June 2015

pulp fiction or the sackfull of news

Advances in printing and enterprising publishers of Europe’s early modern period led to an explosion of literacy and voracious appetite for reading material. Long before penny dreadfuls, comic books and social-mediums, itinerate salesmen touted a compact and cheap format called chapbooks (known as Volksbucher in German), a single sheet of paper folded to accommodate as many as twenty four pages and was stitched together rather than bound. Publishers, with low overhead and minimal exposure to the frailties of public taste, would sell supplies to sometimes hapless, wandering booksellers on credit, who went from door to door or had a booth at the market.
The seller’s prospects and the success or failure of given titles to sell provided invaluable feedback and helped determined what would be reprinted and the character of the genre. These pamphlets covered all sorts of topic, most literate adults also trying their hands at writing—history, education, health, politics, travelogues, often through anecdotal and superficially consulted sources with a repetition and formulaic approach, and often bore the viral, most popular woodcuts of the day—whether that illustration had anything to do with the content or not. Though much criticised as pap for the masses, the surviving bulk of these booklets are cultural artefacts that reveal aspects of life during the Renaissance that would not have been preserved elsewhere.