Different Kinds of Books

There’s a certain kind of book we tend to picture when we hear the word “book” – a block of text, printed on pages, divided into chapters, bound and wrapped in a cover. But there are many different kinds of books, many of which have been massively popular yet dismissed as lesser forms of expression.

In the Renaissance, pamphlets – many of them focused on lurid crimes – were immensely popular. This is a picture from “A true discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked sorcerer who in the likenes of a woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this diuelish practise 25. yeeres, killing and deuouring men, woomen, and children. Who for the same fact was taken and executed the 31. of October last past in the towne of Bedbur neer the cittie of Collin in Germany.” (1590) The image is almost like a comic strip, depicting a crime followed by several salacious punishments. You can find this pamphlet in Early English Books Online.


Though not in book form, William Hogarth told moral stories in the form of prints, many of them issued in series.

Courtesy of wikimedia.

In the 19th century, cheap and colorful adventure stories were immensely popular with boys. These “penny dreadfuls” and “dime novels” were sometimes thought to encourage vice, leading G. K. Chesterton to write “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls.”

One of the strangest examples of the degree to which ordinary life is undervalued is the example of popular literature, the vast mass of which we contentedly describe as vulgar. The boy’s novelette may be ignorant in a literary sense, which is only like saying that a modern novel is ignorant in the chemical sense, or the economic sense, or the astronomical sense; but it is not vulgar intrinsically–it is the actual centre of a million flaming imaginations. . . . These common and current publications have nothing essentially evil about them. They express the sanguine and heroic truisms on which civilization is built.

Later, crime and horror comic books stirred a similar concern, leading to Congressional hearings on the supposed link between reading violent comic books and juvenile crime. To fend off hostile legislation, the comic book industry adopted a code to limit sex, violence, and deviance in comics. (The word “zombie,” for example, was banned from comics.)

Pulp fiction was another form of inexpensive entertainment. The stories frequently dealt with crime and sexuality and the cover art almost always involved women in tight and/or scanty clothing. The work of many pulp writers is considered important literature today.

Courtesy of Olivander.

Some current forms of alternative book publishing today include graphic novels, zines, manga, fotonovelas, and hypertext fiction. Though there is enormous variation within these categories, each of these formats has its own aesthetic and traditions, and each invites a different kind of reading – one that is both verbal and visual.

Courtesy of foxyripper.

Finally, books can be turned into new kinds of books. Altered books are an art form that offers some interesting approaches to rethinking the book itself.