Friday, 8 January 2016

When Books Went to War

"When Books Went to War: the stories that helped us win World War II" by Molly Guptill Manning

   I am very opposed to war and disappointed that, at this stage in the evolution of life on earth, we have not found a way to get along.  However, war continues and this non-fiction book touched my heart.
   Librarians started the ball rolling when they discovered that the existing army libraries had deteriorated after World War One.  They asked the public for donations.
But these books were not portable and, eventually, in 1943, a new form of book was published, called the Armed Services Edition paperbacks. (A.S.E.)  From 10 to 30 titles were printed each month from September of 1943 until June of 1947.
They had a very special design.  They came in two sizes- one to fit in a uniform's shirt pocket, the other to fit in the pants.  They were stapled, not glued, because of the lack of rubber and the fact that tropical insects found glue edible.  They were printed horizontally, not vertically, so that each page was shaped like a postcard and contained two narrow columns of print.  This seemed easier to read with less wasted paper.
One hundred and twenty million copies with 1200 different titles were printed.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith was one of the favourites and many servicemen wrote letters of appreciation to this author.  Most of the young men were completely unprepared for what they experienced in the war and became cynical and hardened.  And so, a simple story like this one, of a young girl growing up in New York, reminded them of home and softened their hearts so that they were better able to fit back into civilian life.
Betty Smith received fifteen hundred letters a year from servicemen and answered most of them.
"Tens of thousands of men found in books the strength they needed to endure the physical wounds inflicted on the battlefield, and the power to heal their emotional and psychological scars as well."

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