Write Again…When Books Went to War

Published 5:07 pm Thursday, April 14, 2022

Not that my interests are of any significance to others, but I think, maybe that my almost life-long focus on all things relating to World War II is known to a few close friends and family, and to at least some of the few who read this column.

Moving on. I’m not obsessed with the history of WWII, but my interest in the most significant time of the 20th Century has remained constant.

In my reading I still come across information, facts that I did not know. There’s always something to learn.

Recently, however, our friend and almost neighbor, Eleanor, passed along a book she felt I would enjoy. A book about something that took place during the war about which I knew zilch.

The book? “When Books Went to War.” And it is a treasure. Let me share an overview of the contents.

“When America entered World War II in 1941,” wrote Tim O’Brien, an author in his own right, in giving an assessment of this jewel of a boo by Molly G. Manning, “we faced an enemy that had banned and burned 100 million books. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations.”

Then, realizing that smaller, reconfigured paperbooks would be far better suited, a major change was made.

In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks for troops to carry in their pockets and rucksacks in every theater of war.”

They were called Armed Services Editions. He went on to say “Soldiers read them while waiting to land at Normandy, in hellish trenches in the midst of battles in the Pacific, in field hospitals, and on long bombing flights.”

Those little books were also widely read and enjoyed by those serving in the Navy. In fact, the popularity of and demand for those books throughout the services was utterly amazing. Especially surprising was the clamor for these books by so many who had never been readers.

The size and scope-the sheer logistics of pulling together all the various components that went into producing and distributing these Armed Services Editions-was daunting, an understatement to say the least.

There is so much more I could mention about this truly special endeavor, but space constraints just wouldn’t allow for it here.

Besides, if you would like a delightfully different World War II “read,” you might consider “When Books Went to War.”

It was a “New York Times” bestseller.

‘Til next time.