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 12:44 am (UTC)
sdelmonte: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sdelmonte
Does the book mention the millions of comic books bought by soldiers during the war? They were even more portable than paperbacks, and even cheaper.

Date: 2016-08-12 12:58 am (UTC)
sdelmonte: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sdelmonte
Comic books were not exactly serialized in the 40s, so I find that comment strange. Oh well.

Date: 2016-08-12 01:54 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
That sounds very interesting. I suppose there'd be a thesis somewhere, examining the questions you mention, about what books were chosen, what genres were rejected by soldiers (if any) etc. It'd be interesting, too, to hear about pressures on publishers during wars, and about "commissioned" morale-boosting works by authors. (I don't know if this produced any novels?)

Date: 2016-08-12 02:29 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Huh, interesting. I believe I own several ASEs, and they're all pocket field guides (to the US, not Europe, of course.) That may reflect mostly what people thought was worth hanging on to for seventy years more than what was produced, though. I also just bought a gardening book that was bookplated as having been sent to US soldiers overseas during WWI; does the book talk about WWI bookdrives at all?

(...I have a bad habit of buying any used books or sheet music I stumble on that have the "printed during wartime" mark...)

Date: 2016-08-12 02:33 am (UTC)
rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
From: [personal profile] rymenhild
Becca, you know you have to review Forever Amber now.

Date: 2016-08-12 02:36 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
Intriguing! Thanks for this.

Date: 2016-08-12 02:46 am (UTC)
agonistes: (the new world)
From: [personal profile] agonistes
pls also review Strange Fruit, Lillian Smith is maybe my favorite person I discovered through my graduate work, a+ a+ a+

Date: 2016-08-12 02:54 am (UTC)
agonistes: (candygram)
From: [personal profile] agonistes
for even fewer lulz, there's Killers of the Dream, which was the first work of hers I read, and, like... she was my grandmother's age, and imagining my grandmother and her cohort reading this book which was NOT PROPER, and knowing Smith was queer as hell??? (Her partner was from two towns over, in south Georgia, from where my dad grew up.) the whole thing was like !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(also she WORKED WITH CHILDREN and published that book. !!!!!!!!!)

basically she was the first evidence i had that white southern progressive rabble-rousers existed before the bare handful who helped out with SNCC, SCLC, CORE, etc., and i have handled a few of her letters up in special collections, and she is a VERY INTERESTING PERSON. ...i'll just show myself out

Date: 2016-08-12 03:10 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
The WWI book I bought gives all the most up-to-date scientific gardening advice as of 1899, so even though it's still in good condition I rather doubt it would have been terribly exciting to a 1940s GI (or even a 1919 one, tbh.) It got me thinking about it, though, and the bookplate is neat!

And, yeah, they were bound on the short end, that's why it sticks in the memory! of course now that I go to look I can't find the books I was thinking of. There was an existing series of pocket field guides in the '30s that were bound that way, though, I'm wondering if they just reprinted them in an unaltered armed services edition without being part of the formal project. Now I can't find them, of course. Clearly it is time to finally attempt to get all the books shelved. <_<

Date: 2016-08-12 04:51 am (UTC)
rachelmanija: (Fishes: I do not see why the sex)
From: [personal profile] rachelmanija
I was about to say exactly that. I mean come on. SIX illegitimate babies! They can get together with Eloisa Jones' and then you have Cheaper by the Dozen.

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).

Date: 2016-08-12 02:20 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
That is awesome! I remember Betty Smith writing in an article about the hundreds and hundreds of letters she got from GIs who read her book.

Date: 2016-08-12 02:22 pm (UTC)
kore: (lumina book - Bram Stoker's Dracula)
From: [personal profile] kore
yessssssss yes it is

Date: 2016-08-12 05:48 pm (UTC)
brigdh: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brigdh
Forever Amber is a lot of fun! I read it a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It very much reads like a modern novel (though more historical fiction than straight romance); you'd never guess that it's 70 years old. The heroine has a "Becky Sharpe from Vanity Fair" thing going on – she's kind of a terrible person, but you end up rooting for her anyway.

I also do not remember 39 illegitimate pregnancies, but I assume most of them are briefly mentioned in secondary characters.

Date: 2016-08-15 12:52 am (UTC)
landofnowhere: (Default)
From: [personal profile] landofnowhere
Though I assume one should subtract off the seven abortions...

Date: 2017-02-17 08:34 pm (UTC)

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