Kids these days. They never read! They’ll sit for hours, glaze-eyed, watching the endless mind-numbing fodder of television, or work incessantly to reach the next level of that video game. Why don’t they just pick up a book?

Maybe we need to bring back the penny dreadfuls.

Essentially dime-store pulp novels, penny dreadfuls were mass-produced mini-books that flourished in America and England in the middle- and late-19th century, according to, the Stanford University library’s Web site.

The popularization of the books is largely attributed to three converging social trends: the increased mechanization of printing, the growth of efficient rail and canal shipping and ever-increasing literacy rates.

The novels were mainly aimed at youthful, working class audiences and were sold at newsstands and general stores.

Everyone could find a story they liked, from the stereotypical Wild West adventures to tales of urban knaves, detectives, costume romances and even “working-girl narratives of virtue defended,” according to the Stanford Web site.

While some lament the lack of reading these days, times and viewpoints do change. Maybe during the penny dreadful’s heyday, parents and teachers were complaining about young’uns always having their nose in a book, taking time away from meaningful diversions such as plucking a chicken or cleaning the sewage out of the front gutter. Nothing builds character like lancing the boils of your great-aunt Hortence, rendered mute and blind by the great cask fire of aught-six.

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