Friday, September 05, 2008

“I’m a radical, but I hate radicals. I’d forget the revolution over a glass of wine.”

There's a really fine article in The Believer about the life & times of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. If you don't know what that is, you're in good company. In the '20s, Haldeman-Julius set up shop in Girard, Kansas, and through his insanely popular "Little Blue Books" mail-order business contributed to the town's bizarre notoriety as a hotbed of socialism and radicalism.

Initially called “The Appeal’s Pocket Series,” individual titles sold for twenty-five cents. From the beginning of his publishing project, Haldeman-Julius made an effort to promote controversial rationalist and sex-education writings not available from other outlets. At a time when many working-class Americans didn’t finish high school—let alone attend college—his books aimed to inform, provoke discussion, and promote independence of thought. Many of the books were public-domain reprints of classics, which included “all the famous authors from Aesop to Zarilla”—though he also hired freelancers to write original books, often on political or how-to topics. Protofeminist Margaret Sanger, for example, was recruited to write about birth control (a taboo subject at the time). Sherwood Anderson contributed short stories, and Theodore Dreiser penned How the Great Corporations Rule the United States. Scores of lesser-known writers weighed in on various other topics, from Great Pirates and Their Deeds to How to Make All Kinds of Candy. An atheist himself, Haldeman-Julius made it a point to publish excerpts from sacred books as well as tracts on skepticism. “I am against all religion—I think the Bible is a dull book,” he later wrote. “Yet I print the Bible, and in the face of an appallingly low annual sale I keep the book in the series. I do this out of stubbornness. I am determined, because I know I am prejudiced against the book, to give it more than a fair chance. Could supporters of the Bible ask any more of one who does not like it?”

There's more where that came from in the article, you crazy radicals!