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Ode to the Potboiler

Cover image of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Popular fiction and genre novels have always gotten bad raps by critics for not offering any literary value to readers. Many readers know, however, that some of the most popular authors have at least dabbled in genre fiction and many one-hit wonder titles still resonate as powerful signifiers of an era. Household names that have surfaced from genre writing include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Later popular fiction included paperbacks from publishers such as Bantam and Berkley that often displayed illustrated covers where the artist was responsible for drawing just as much attention to the book as the author. Risqué settings with bodacious characters were big crowd pleasers, and books sold for about 50 cents apiece. Today the popular paperback still thrives at grocery stores and airport bookstores but the covers now adorn mostly photographed models instead of illustrations. The following are titles that gained recognition as bestselling “potboilers” for attracting the attention of readers across the country:

The Big Sleep
By Raymond Chandler

A nightmare story of degeneracy in southern California, in which two Hollywood heiresses become mixed up in blackmail and murder.

Peyton Place
By Grace Metalious

Regarded as scandalous and explosive when first published in 1956, this novel reveals the lurid stories behind the seemingly placid residents of an old and ingrown New England town. Murder, incest, and adultery are a few of its themes.

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