Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Little Blue Book

Lowenkopf's Law of Coincidence: The older one gets, the more likely one will become increasingly involved in a series of coincidences that will cause one to think there is a predestined order and structure in the universe.

A bit too long, perhaps, for an aphorism, but maybe by removing the occasional noun or verb here and there, it can be tamed, brought in line.

Yesterday, a smal, sturdy envelope arrived from one of the myriad Amazon dot com retailers, containing in nearly mint condition a three-and-a-half inch by five-inch booklet entitled Facts You Should Know About American Literature. The author is E. Haldeman-Julius; it is title 1289 in a series of similarly sized little books, mostly printed on a pale blue cover although some are rendered in an off-white while other yet appear as the color of a pea soup provided at venues where one is forced to listen to some aspect of Christian doctrine before being allowed to slurp. Lubavitchers would not dare to serve soup of such a color, thus they are excluded from the trope.

The coincidence occurs when I am seated at the Xanadu Bakery, directly in front ot the Von's of the Stars, a market so called because it attracts individuals from Hollywood, not merely persons who drive up here to shop but rather those who do well eough in the entertainment industries to afford a pied a tierre or more, enabling them to have filled refrigerators in two different counties of this rambunctious state.

I am working out with Brian Fagan an approach to the opening four chapters of a book already contracted dealing with our forebears, the Cro-Magnon. Smugly satisfied over the prospects of this early insight into the venture, we slide into an atmosphere of near ebullience when, intent on some recondite purchase, Mark Collins appears, assumes the thrust of our scattered papers and bear claw crumbs if not the actual subject matter, then proceds to tell us not to forget the Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books rights.

Why, I wonder, would you mention such a thing? I ask.

Because I have been inexplicably driven to collecting the things, Collins rejoins, whereupon we discover our mutual fascination with these books that sold millions of copies via mail order from about 1923 until 1956. My particular favorites were short stories of Chekhov, De Maupassant, and Jack London.

Collins has promised a full list of the books , photographs, and an opportunity to investigate his copies, thinking this might be a fun venture for my weekly book review column. I am not only agreeing, I am drawn back to the time when my collection was kept in a cigar box generously provided by my father who, at the time, favored a brand called Creamo. My Little Blue Books, stored in the Creamo Cigar box, began to take on a leafy tang, something between a wet dog and cooked cabbage which, now that I think about it, was exactly what Creamo Cigars smelled like.

Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books were in many ways the beginning of the paperback book industry in this country, a sort of everyman's Tauchnitz Editions and, indeed, later the Pocket Book, copies of which I owned even though the twenty-five-cent price could get me a convincing model airplane model kit. Soon, very soon, books won out, and the next step in my iconography was a collection of the paperbound books made available to American GIs during World War II.

More on these remarkable books, anon. Collins has already sent me a complete list of all the Little Blue Books; he promises photos which I will share.


R.L. Bourges said...

No Little Blue Books where I come from. We had Classiques Garnier in funereal purple. And since the nuns in boarding school did not allow for exciting reading such as Chekov, Maupassant or - God forbid! Rabelais - we usually ended up reading the religious parts of tragedies by Racine leavened with the boring parts of Les Caractères de La Bruyère. Very character-forming indeed.

Unknown said...

I've just begun to develop an interest in this series. I've purchased a few lots from eBay in anticipation of collecting them all. But my real interest is to start a website about them. I'm pretty good at that; see my website on the Modern Library 1917- 1970 ( And consider this an invite to send me e-mails with info about Little Blue Books!

Scot Kamins