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The Worst (And Most Important) Smuggling Job in the History of Literature

As a child, I was a Bennett Cerf fan because of the funny books he wrote. As an adult, I became vaguely aware that he was the publisher who founded Random House. But Cerf will be known to history as a man who battled for your right to read. In 1920, the James Joyce novel Ulysses was judged obscene and banned in the U.S. In 1932, Cerf was determined to reverse that decision, and crafted a scenario that would lead to a court ruling on the book. But first, a crime had to be committed, so it was arranged for a smuggled copy to be intercepted at an American port of entry. Things did not go quite as planned.

The smuggler was following very specific instructions. He’d obtained the text, just like he’d been told. He stuffed the book into his suitcase. Then he boarded the luxurious Aquitania in Europe, with orders to disembark at this very port. But as he waited in line eying the customs officials, things weren’t going to plan. In fact, it looked like the officer was just going to wave him through. This was not what the smuggler was being paid to do; he was under strict orders to get caught!

“Get out; get on out,” the customs agent yelled. Instead of checking bags for contraband, the officers were frantically stamping the suitcases in front of them. They didn’t bother to look inside, or halt passengers for random checks. As the official tried to push the smuggler forward, the traveler did something inane: he demanded to be inspected.

"I insist that you open the bag and search it."

"It's too hot," argued the inspector. Indeed, the temperature in the room was well over 100 degrees. The officials were rushing people through so they too could call it a day. But the passenger insisted. “I think there’s something in there that’s contraband, and I insist that it be searched.”

Despite such setbacks, the court case was established, and the story of how Cerf worked behind the scenes to bring the book’s censorship to an end can be found at mental_floss.


What a complete waste of time. As anyone who has tried to read this book will tell you, it's beyond dull. So tortuously written and tedious in its telling that it defies any rational explanation. Many, many years ago I had to read it at school for my final English literature exam. Never again!
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