Emanuel Haldeman-Julius : Pocket Series and the Little Blue Books

Historical Notes: Famous Fans of the Little Blue Books

With hundreds of millions of Little Blue Books sold over the span of five decades, the number of Little Blue Book readers must be virtually incalculable. It is thus a bit surprising how often discussions roll around to which famous individuals were known to be LBB readers. Given the popularity of this topic, we figured our site visitors might find some entertainment in an ongoing "who's who" of some of the more famous fans of the Little Blue Books.

Haile Selassie I
The Regent (1916-1930) and Emperor (1930-1974) of Ethiopia is, perhaps, the most often-touted fan of the Little Blue Books. According to Rolf Potts of The Believer, EHJ once said "the Lion of Judah reads practically the same kind of books which would appeal to an intelligent taxi driver, with a few sexology titles thrown in."1

William S. Burroughs
Beat author and "Grandpa Punk," William S. Burroughs, was a very vocal fan of the Little Blue Books. During his interview with Larry McCaffery and Jim McMenamin in Conversations with William S. Burroughs, Burroughs mentions them along side of Amazing Stories and Weird Tales as a creative catalyst in his youth. In his collection The Adding Machine: Selected Essays Burroughs records "What I liked to do was get in my room against the radiator and play records and read the Little Blue Books put out by Haldeman-Julius, free-thinker and benevolent agnostic ..."2

Jack Kerouac
In the journal he kept while serving aboard the Dorchester in the summer of 1942, Kerouac made mention of reading from a set of small books. Memories of these same books are raised again in his 1968 semi-autobiographical novel Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education, 1935-46. Kerouac scholar, Paul Maher, Jr., inspired by correspondence with Dr. G. Thomas Tanselle (co-author of "The Haldeman-Julius 'Little Blue Books' as a Bibliographical Problem") believes it is very likely the books in question were LBBs.3 Given Kerouac's long-time friend William S. Burroughs' affinity for the series, this certainly seems like a reasonable conclusion.

Richard Byrd
Noted polar explorer, Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., is said to have brought some 1,500 Little Blue Books along on his first expedition to the Antarctic.4 Based on available publications figures, this would have represented the entire Little Blue Book inventory in 1928.

Mona Parsons
Mona Louise Parsons was the only Canadian female civilian to be tried and imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII, as a result of her loose affiliation with the Dutch resistance. At the time of her death in Wolfville, Nova Scotia in 1976, her personal library contained 51 Little Blue Books, with a notable emphasis on works by or about Goethe, Tolstoy and Ibsen.5

Col. Frank Borman
In 1969, Norman Tanis, of the Kansas State College of Pittsburg (now Pittsburg State University), sent a collection of Little Blue Books to the astronauts of the Apollo program in hopes they would find their way aboard upcoming lunar flights. NASA regulations, and the aftermath of a tragic fire during a "plugs-out" test on January 27, 1967, prevented the material from being taken aboard. However, in a subsequent letter to Tanis, Col. Frank Borman, Commander of Apollo 8, said "They are quite good, however, and make excellent reading material right here on earth."6

Louis L'Amour
Louis Dearborn L'Amour, one of America's most prolific authors of cowboy fiction, spoke passionately about the series in his autobiography, Education of a Wandering Man. He claims to have "read several hundred" of them over the years, and stated "The Little Blue Books were a godsend to wandering men and no doubt to many others ... I carried ten or fifteen of them in my pockets, reading when I could."7

Harlan Ellison
Hugo and Nebula award-winning author, Harlan Ellison, mentions the Little Blue Book series as a bonding agent in his relationship with fellow author, Louis L'Amour (see above). In his article "Lunch With Louis 'n' Me: A Few Casuals by Way of Reminiscence," Ellison says "Haldeman-Julius and his Little Blue Books had a greater hand in educating the self-educated in this country than did the Britannica, McGuffey's primer, the Modern Library and the Great Books series all rolled together in one heap of fustian. And to anyone who grew up on the road – as did Louis and I, decades apart – the Little Blue Books were pocket stuffing as necessary as nuts and packets of cheese. They were survival for the soul, food for the mind, moveable schoolrooms at ten cents a shot."8

Saul Bellow
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author, Saul Bellow, once told his son, Adam "... when I used to commute to college from the south side of Chicago, to Northwestern, I'd go down to the IC and there would be a little vending machine. You'd put in a nickel and you'd get out a copy of the poems of Shelley or the stories of Maupassant. You'd read it on the train and then you'd discard it."9 Naturally, the vending machine in question was one of the Automatic Libraries of O. D. Jennings & Company, stocked full of Little Blue Books. Adam Bellow himself was so enamored by EHJ's enterprise that he's even tried a stab at such himself, in the form of The New Pamphleteer.

Gore Vidal
American author and activist, Gore Vidal, mentions reading books in the series to his blind grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore. "I used to lead him onto the floor of the Senate. I would read the Congressional Record to him and also those Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books that were filled with essays on literature and philosophy."10

Jack Conroy
In his eighties, infamous "Worker-Writer," Jack Conroy, was said to have still had "hundreds of Little Blue Books he had read sixty years before, packed in boxes ..."11 Biographer Douglas Wixson even infers that Conroy may have started his LBB library back in 1923, when the entire series of 239 booklets could be purchased for $16.90.12

Claude McKay
McKay, a seminal writer in the Harlem Renaissance, was said to have made use of "one of Haldeman-Julius' little rhyming dictionaries" when composing his poetry.13

Margaret Mead
During an interview with Gene DeGruson, noted cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead recalled that Little Blue Book No. 236, 61 Reasons for Doubting the Inspiration of the Bible had kept her and her sister "occupied for weeks." Further, she went on to mention that she had taken a suitcase of Little Blue Books along with her during her pivotal research trip to the island of Ta'u (Samoa Islands).14

Wendell Johnson
On July 16, 1950, author Wendell Johnson signed a copy of his book People in Quandaries for E. Haldeman-Julius. This copy, now located in the Haldeman-Julius archive at Pittsburg State University, bears an inscription which reads (in part) "As a boy on a farm near Roxbury, Kansas, I carried one or more Blue Books in my pocket practically daily. I used to wait my turn on the corn rack at silo-filling time by reading Ibsen, Shaw, etc., and I had a habit of resting the horses under the mulberry trees at the ends of the corn rows while I sat on the cultivator reading Blue Books. I think you've done a tremendously important thing."15

"Studs" Terkel
From 1926 to 1936, Terkel's parents ran a rooming house / hotel in Chicago, Illinois. In several interviews, Terkel has reminisced that a core component of his education were the discussions between the boarders, "I loved hearing those arguments. Many [of those in the hotel] were autodidacts, were self-taught. They carried little blue books."16 In the introduction to his work American Dreams: Lost and Found, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author recounts "They were small paperbacks, encompassing the writings of all the world's wise men - and an occasional wise woman - from the Year One. Published in Girard, Kansas, twenty such books would come to you in return for one buck ... Not a bad buy."17

There are, of course, numerous other popular figures who've been described as fans of the Little Blue Books: Charlie Chaplin, Mary "Mother" Jones, Paul Blanchard, Franklin Pierce Adams, Langston Hughes and Dorothy Canfield Fisher to name only a handful. We're still hunting for information to substantiate these claims - once discovered, we'll update this page accordingly. Of course, if you know of a famous fan not listed here, please let us know!

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1Potts, Rolf. "The Henry Ford of Literature." Available online from The Believer, September 2008. Accessed 14/02/2012.
2Burroughs, William S., The Adding Machine: Selected Essays, pg. 24. Arcade Publishing, 1993. Available online from Google Books.
3Maher, Paul. "Kerouac's Little Blue Books". Available online from The Archive - Sketches on Kerouac. Accessed 14/02/2012.
4Ketchell, Aaron. The Countertradition: A History of Freethought in Kansas, pg. 21. Available online from Religion in Kansas Oral History Project. Accessed 14/02/2012.
5Her entire Little Blue Book collection, each booklet signed by Parsons herself, is in the private library of Haldeman-Julius collector, Jason Ramsay-Brown.
6Scott, Mark. "The Little Blue Books in the War on Bigotry and Bunk." Available online from The Autodidact Project. Accessed 14/02/2012.
7L'Amour, Louis. Education of a wandering man, pp. 8-9. Random House Digital, Inc., 1989. Available online from Google Books. Accessed 16/02/2012.
8Ellison, Harlan. "Lunch With Louis 'n' Me: A Few Casuals by Way of Reminiscence." Available online from The Official Louis L'Amour website. Accessed 16/02/2012.
9Beckerman, Gal. "Adam Bellow, Pamphleteer for the 21st Century." Available online from Columbia Journalism Review, 2006. Accessed 16/02/2012.
10Kaplan, Justin. "A fat and hungry nation." Available online from The New York Times, June 14, 1987. Accessed 16/02/2012.
11Wixson, Douglas. Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1990, pg 108. Available online from Google Books. Accessed 16/02/2012.
12Wixson, Douglas. Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1990, pg 106. Available online from Google Books. Accessed 16/02/2012.
13Cooper, Wayne F. Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance, pg 151. Available online from Google Books. Accessed 17/02/2012.
14DeGruson, Eugene. E. Haldeman-Julius: Freethinker. Pg 7. Rockton, IL: H. H. Waldo, 1992.
15Very clear scan of inscription provided by Randy E. Roberts, Curator of Special Collections, Leonard H. Axe Library, Pittsburg State University, on 21/02/2012.
16Kreisler, Harry. "Studs Terkel Interview, full text." Available online from Conversations with History, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. Oct 29 2003. Accessed 21/02/2012. Full video of interview may be seen via http://conversations.berkeley.edu/content/studs-terkel
17Terkel, Studs. American Dreams: Lost and Found, pg xx. Available online from Google Books. Accessed 21/02/2012.