Bookstores? A thing of the past.
They really are. They died a slow death, their lifeblood drained by societal changes. But the heydey of reading as a pastime: not just devouring the latest blockbuster that now sells by the pallet at or below cost at Amazon or WalMart, or having the must have trashy beach novel in hand as one smokes on summer holidays - really was in the 1940s and 1950s. Life was about the written word for the most part: though television was a new thing and of course people were still in the habit of watching movies, radio was the source of entertainment for most, with people tuning in to hear the latest from Sherlock Holmes as presented by Kreml Hair Tonic, or the adventures of Boston Blackie confounding the headstrong yet less-than-efficient Lt. Farraday. The average man commuting to and from work, especially in New York or some other metropolitan location - had on him a book, cheaply printed, cheaply mass produced. Lurid cover, even more lurid contents. The stories weren't Shakespeare nor were they some kind of mini-epic a la Thorn Birds - it was usually about a body discovered rapidly into the narrative, a private eye with a past, and shady characters who may or may not have been involved in a community whose dark secrets were broken wide open by the discovery of the corpse.
Whereas a murder mystery proper, the likes of an Agatha Christie for example invite the viewer to see the novel as a follow-along intellectual puzzle, if the pulp was Film Noir on the page, you were usually along for fists breaking ribs and reputations sullied by slinking around in the dark.
They weren't the only type of pulp novel. Anything that could sensationalize or shock was turned into fodder for the mill. Books about lesbianism and male homosexuality, especially situational gay rape - sat alongside lurid stories of teenage motorcycle hoodlums and switchblade sisters who live only to make out and kill. In the dying days of the genre, as the 70s rolled in to the 80s and people found other uses for their commute, the pulps died out, but plugged in to Manson-like stories of crazed stoned hippies and teenage pregnancy in one last gasp. Interracial sex, murder, life on alien planets and swords and sorcery rolled out into easily digested slender volumes designed to be read in a few sittings.
The pulps got their start as an extension of pulp magazines, which in contrast to the "glossies" were printed on cheap paper and designed only to convey stories about detectives and Westerns. With such a demand and relatively low pay, a lot of authors got their start in the pulps, with notable authors like Isaac Asimov getting started therein. Many famous properties emerged from pulps, such as Hopalong Cassidy and Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan and Buck Rogers. They were designed to sell by lurid title and subject matter alone, and were meant to be read quickly and disposed of without much fanfare.
As a result, finding good pulps these days is difficult, their vanilla-scented aroma giving off the telltale sign of wood pulp breakdown. Finding a title not falling apart with a cover ravaged by time is difficult, and copies that are holding together and readable can command $10 or more.
If you look right at any of the few bookstores left, usually there is a four for a dollar or cheaper section where books brought in by the trunkload were deemed too common or too beat up to sell for any real money. Most often they're Harlequin romances, yet another copy of some Hare Krishna book someone bought off a "pure devotee" in the 1960s or 1970s and "threw away" years later, or some now-comical treatise on "the Red scare". But sometimes, tucked in between the dreck and the flotsam and jetsam, you can find an old pulp that someone carelessly left behind and forgot to mark up to $5 or more.
As it stands right now, the book "Addicted to Death" sits on my reading table, alongside my perfectly chilled martini, as doom jazz plays on the stereo. The local contagious diseases expert is investigating the sudden death of the local Baptist pastor at the last town hall meeting. And based on a few shadowy calls to his home to frighten his wife, someone doesn't want him snooping around that too much. Enough to stove his head in with a pipe (non fatally) the moment he discovers the wire tap on his phone line....