Happy Veteran’s Day to all you who served that reads this blog! I think this book review is appropriate for today.
Molly Guptill Manning. When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, December 2nd, 2014. 288 pp.
This book is about books and it wasn’t boring! The subject of this book is about the effort of average Americans and later the US government in providing books to members of the military during World War Two. The bulk of the time in war is boredom. Servicemembers need something to occupy their time. I’ll remember my time in Iraq in which individual Marines blasted rap, country and heavy metal (I can’t picture guys listening to Justin Beiber, I’m just saying). In a world where MP3 players, DVD players and PSPs were not existent, the GIs in World War Two read.
The book contrasted the American effort to provide literatures to servicemembers with the German book bans. Those involved with providing literatures to GIs were very conscious that “fighting for freedom” means the goal of people reading is not just to feed propaganda and ban ideas. Of course as the book progress some books were not included in the reading lists of GIs since it might hurt morale or undermine the war effort but overall the librarians and administrators were conscious of the issue.
The book describe the early effort beginning with something called the Victory Book Campaign. At a grass root level librarians and concerned citizens gathered books donated by the public and shipped to base libraries and overseas. This was called a failure by newspaper but the author argues that it was not entirely a failure though it has many setbacks.
The next stage was taken up by the government in coordination with publishers in what was called the Armed Services Edition (ASE). I found this to be the most fascinating part of the book. Writers, publishers and editors joined in the war effort in producing literature free of charge or at really reduced rate for the military. I love reading about the effort in making the ASE in consideration of the fighting condition of war such as this being a paperback unlike heavy hardcover book donations during the VBC effort. The selections were quite broad and the ASEs featured genres such as Western, Mystery and Classics. I found out from the book that the Great Gatsby became a hit during this time as GIs were reading it.
I suppose why this book really fascinated me was how the World War Two generation read in war. They read to keep their mind on something else besides the grim reality before them. They read because they felt free when they did so. They read to recover from wars and even from recovering from injuries. And somehow people wrote those behind the ASE to have books that would help them in the future after the war. How can people not say that was America’s greatest generation?
I can’t help but to think about the role reading might play for servicemembers and veterans today. How might reading help with veterans coping with PTSD? How might reading help people in actual combat zones? I’m not just talking about magazine article but whole books. Reading this made me reflect my time in Iraq and how my pastor mailed to me vast amount of solid Christian literatures and books. It feels so dry many times to read after sixteen hours shifts in Iraq. I imagine many others have felt the same. But I found reading not to be a form of escapism but a freedom of the mind, spiritually and otherwise.
I’m grateful for the author writing this book.