Thursday, June 9, 2016

WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR by Molly Guptill Manning

Did you know that when Germany burned hundreds of thousands of books before World War II, books by Helen Keller were among them? I don't know why, and she didn't either, but it might have been because she was physically imperfect.

The Germans burned Helen Keller's books. That's one thing I learned from Molly Guptill Manning's When Books Went to War. 

I also learned about Armed Services Editions (ASEs), pocket-sized books sent by the millions to the troops wherever they were. I learned about the book collections which went before.

I learned about which books were most popular with the soldiers. (Are you surprised at Forever Amber or the most popular book of all, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?)

The book publishers, librarians, and others who ran the program fought censorship. They asked soldiers what they would like to read (hence Forever Amber, which was banned in Boston). They fought Republican attempts to severely limit what soldiers could read. (Republicans feared that the ASEs included books that encouraged Roosevelt's reelection.) And they printed educational books to help prepare soldiers for when they would return to civilian life.

Soldiers, loved and used ASEs. They passed them around until they wore out.

ASEs brought about new ways of publishing, ways to save paper and make books more accessible. ASEs were precursors to the wide distribution of paperback books in the US. They plowed the ground for the GI Bill. They gave some GIs who had not read books before a lifelong introduction to reading books.

And as you might suspect, the program's benefits left out Blacks and women. Women in the service did not routinely receive ASEs. And because of segregation, Blacks could not take advantage of educational opportunities ASEs brought after the war.

All this was happening in my early childhood years. Until I read When Books Went to War, I knew nothing about ASEs. 

This is a short book. It appears much longer than it is because its various Afterwords contain the full list of books sent, and other information about ASEs.

For those of us who love to read and those who write books for others to read, When Books Went to War is a great book. It tells something about a time when the U.S. government helped a whole generation come to love reading books.


Richard Robinson said...

This is a terrific book, I concur in highly recommending it. Great review!

Joe Barone said...

Richard, Those of us who love books come away from WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR with an even greater appreciation of their importance. Thanks for your comment.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

This sounds great! I'm a pushover for anything about the WW2 era, so this one goes on my "must read list" for the near future. I look forward to learning more about (1) the domestic and international politics of the issue, and (2) the reactions/interests of the readers themselves. Thanks!

Joe Barone said...

Tim, Everyone I know who has read this has liked it. Also, all but one of them had never heard of this program before.