How do you choose a book? Invariable when returning my borrowed library books there will be a recommendation based on previous reads from the librarian. A librarian’s wealth of literary knowledge is amazing. Then again perhaps a book cover will catch my eye inviting me to take a pew and pause. The bold colours of a dust jacket with angular lines, the gentle tone of soft summer colours on another or even the placement of a title on a monochrome background can entice me. Sometimes the title just jumps out.
It was the title “When Books Went to War” by Molly Guptill Manning which attracted me one day. Such an unusual title. Normally a book jacket with a soldier would turn me off but the title was intriguing and unusual. This is the story of the armed services edition of books which was authorised by the U.S. government during world war 2. The U.S. government supplied over 120 million free books which were read and reread, borrowed shared, read aloud, read silently and provided an oasis to all those serving. This was the polar opposite to Nazi Germany where the government ordered the burning of books and the destruction of many more in libraries across the countries as they invaded. The bill led to books becoming more accessible through paperback editions.
However, this would not have been possible without the work of librarians. When they realised that the Nazis were destroying books, they launched a campaign whereby free books would be sent to US troops. They collected over 20 million hard covered books all free donations. The Publishing industry and the Government then joined forces to provide free books.
Many books which would not be read today except for this amazing programme. “The Great Gatsby” was rescued and the author of another wonderful book “a Tree Grows in Brooklynn” became a national hero. The comradery which developed through reading lasted long after the war was over.
“When Books Went to War” is a wonderfully written and engaging book. It could have been a dull read as so many reference books are but this book captured me and kept me engaged throughout. This book showed how a book could be educational, instructive, comforting, engaging and through the idea of passing on a book reinforcing the strength of comradeship. This is a gem of a book.
In a very practical way this book epitomised how a book can be extremely powerful.