skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)
[personal profile] skygiants
One of my coworkers recommended me When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II, which is 100% unsurprising because this is definitely a book geared towards making librarians and archivists feel good about themselves, with several chapters dedicated to the valiant patriotic efforts of the ALA.

I mean, I'm not knocking it, it did make me feel good! It's basically an exploration of what books meant to soldiers on the front as one of the few viable forms of entertainment a person could tote around with them on the battlefield, the various efforts that went to getting those books there, and the impact that they had when they did.

The ALA kicked off the trend by running a massive book drive, but the huge bulk of the book is dedicated to the publication of Armed Service Editions (ASE), which were lightweight little books selected for publication and distribution en masse to the armed forces and designed to fit inside a uniform pocket.

When Books Went to War makes a big deal about how the ASEs represented all kinds of genres for all kinds of tastes including classics and history and science and so on, but looking at the list in the back, it seems like they were really mostly contemporary fiction with a few other options thrown into each batch, and the choices were occasionally baffling (weirdly, for example, Dorothy Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon was published as an ASE, but not any of her other novels.) Hilariously, romance was not really represented -- after all, these were manly books for manly soldier men! -- until soldiers wrote in and were like "WE WANT SEX SCENES, PLEASE SEND US FOREVER AMBER," and the Council on Books in Wartime dutifully sent Forever Amber to the front lines, as well as Strange Fruit, which MIGHT have been a controversial and searing examination of racism and interracial romance that was banned in multiple cities but ALSO had sex scenes in it.

(As a sidenote: wow, I had heard of Forever Amber but not read the Wikipedia article until just now and it's AMAZING. "[The] attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and "10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men" as reasons for banning the novel." Thirty-nine illegitimate pregnancies! I know it's like 800 pages, but still, how is there room?)

Anyway, the book does not provide a particularly nuanced examination of why any of the books in question were chosen or approved or sent overseas, and there are a whole bunch obvious questions about wartime propaganda that don't really get asked. However, all the anecdotes and primary source quotes about soldiers pouncing on books and devouring them and writing earnestly back to authors and publishers are really genuinely heartwarming, as is the fact that the most popular novels by far among the troops were >A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Chicken Every Sunday, because it turns out what extremely stressed-out troops on the front lines really want is heartwarming YA from the point of view of plucky teenage girls. Who says male readers can't identify with a female viewpoint!

Date: 2016-08-12 06:37 am (UTC)
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
From: [personal profile] cyphomandra
I read Forever Amber about twenty years ago, and from what I remember I enjoyed it more than I expected? It didn't have the same effect on me as Georgette Heyer (read earlier, obsessed with) but it was definitely better than Peyton Placeand its atrocious sequel, which I read around the same time (I don't know, sometimes my reading choices could use work).

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