by Kelvin Smith
In Hillel Bernstein’s comic dystopia, published in a Gollanz Left Book Club Edition in 1936, the role of foreign writers and publishers is acknowledged. At a critical time in its history, many writers came to Bidlo. “They had commissions from magazines and book publishers to write studies of ‘the new heroism’.”
“Can one write a book about heroism,” I asked Mulden,”after staying here no more than a week?”
“Twice too long a time,” said Mulden. “For magazine articles, six hours in a country is enough. For a full-length book of twenty chapters, with personal experiences, analysis of statistics, biography of the ruler, cultural tendencies, mystic undercurrents, illustrative anecdotes, ancient customs and folk-lore, interviews with two peasants and one hotel doorman who knows everything, and index, the standard is three days. On the fourth day the observer breaks down, goes stale. Nothing remains for him now but to wait for his second wind, which generally takes about five years. By that time, having discarded everything that he has learned in the interim, he will once more reach the three-day stage of literary observation, and his publishing firm will be glad to hear from him, if it is still in existence.”
Would publishers today prefer Hillel’s book or the three-day quickies he describes?
Hillel Bernstein, Choose a Bright Morning, 1936