Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Books in the Cellar #2

What do my ancestors and Haile Selassie have in common?
Tiger skin rugs?
The Order of the Condor of the Andes of Bolivia? Commander of the Order of the Shield and Spears of Uganda
Descent from the Queen of Sheba?
Fluency in Amharic?

Wrong on all counts.
Like my paternal grandparents (though I am not clear which one, or even if it was really my maiden aunt who is not technically a relative) Haile Selassie was devoted the Little Blue Books.

Several years ago I found the stash of the Little Blue Books in the cellar. Because they were small and printed on cheap paper (brittle as dried crab carcasses left behind by the tide) I assumed they were a response to the wartime paper shortage. I was wrong.
The Little Blue Books were the brainchild of Emanuel and Marcet Haldeman-Julius, socialists and publishers in Girard , Kansas, a hotbed of socialist politics in the early 20th century. So much so that in 1904 a progressive editor in Girard commissioned Upton Sinclair to write about the plight of immigrants in Chicago’s meat packing houses. Seven weeks later, he produced The Jungle. (Which I highly recommend; I read it for the first time about 3 years ago, and it seems that not enough - not enough by far - has changed.)
But I digress.
The idea was that the Little Blue Books would be cheap and portable, just the right size for a workingman’s back pocket. To finance his venture, Haldeman-Julius sent a prospectus to his mailing list of subscriber’s to the socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, asking for a prepayment of $5.00. This would entitlement the subscriber to 50 Little Blue Books, at 5¢ each.
In this way, he raised $25,0000, which allowed him to start printing 24,000 titles a day in 1919. The series took off, publishing such sure fire winners as:
Eight Humorous Sketches, Mark Twain
Truth, and Seventeen Other Essays, Francis Bacon
The Nonsense Called Theosophy, Joseph McCabe
How to Psycho-Analyze Yourself, Daniel H. Bonus
Then after WWII, J. Edgar Hoover took a look at these inflammatory and rabble rousing pamphlets, and he did Haldeman-Julius the honor of putting him on the FBI’s enemies list. Stores stopped carrying the Little Blue Books. Haldeman-Julius drowned in 1951, and in 1978 the Girard printing press burned to the ground.

On another note, today is the feast the widow, Blessed Jutta of Huy(b 1158. She married unwillingly and then was widowed at the age of 18, while still in the pink of her loveliness. This fact, and the attentions of suitors, so distressed her that she entered a convent, and when this was not austere enough, she had herself walled up in a little room attached to the leper house. There she lived until her death 46 years later. She was also an extraordinary mind reader and prognosticator, but it is not clear how she communicated from her room next to the lepers.

Hagiography was one of the few subjects not delved into by the Little Blue Books. That is where SQD comes in.

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