You guys. This book. It made me a weepy, grateful mess. But let's start with the basics that everyone already knows.
World War II was terror and death wrapped in bombs and shrapnel. Nazis were (are) assholes. For a soldier, there was a lot of waiting around for the fighting to start and then when it did it was pants shitting horror. Many of the fighting men and women had no creature comforts, and nothing to take their mind of their surroundings, loneliness, homesickness and fright. But a couple of smart people realized that there was a simple thing to lift their spirits and keep morale sliding any more dangerously low - books.
There were a couple of problems:
- A lot of times the government didn't have the money to kit out a soldier completely, and know they have to spend money for books too?
- At first there was a book drive and a million books were collected. However, not all of the books were of interest to the average fighter (obscure theological tomes anyone?) And since paperback books were just starting to be made, most of the books were hardcovers.There was reports of men in the jungles of the Pacific leaving things like gas masks behind to lighten their loads, they are not going to carry a heavy hardcover.
- "In 1943, publishers were only allowed 37.5% of the paper they had been allowed in 1939". Because, you know, there's a war on and you gotta make do.
The solution that was come up with was the American Services Edition. They were paperback, lightweight, designed to fit in pockets and bags (they even measured all the pockets on different armed forces uniforms to make sure). Even the longest ASE (521 pages) fit snugly into pockets.
How were books chosen?
1. Publishers went through their catalogs and tried to pick out books that would have the most appeal.
2. An outside council read the recommended books and discussed their merits. They'd make a list.
3.The government had to approve the books, and the ones they approved got printed and distributed.
The best part of this book was learning about the books the soldiers loved. There are some surprises! They were desperate for the books, they were the hottest commodity in camp next to lighters. Many men said that they weren't really readers but those little books turned them into readers for life! And some books were designed specifically to help men get back into civilian life after the war.
I was just a big spongy mess reading this book, for real. What these books did for those people is extraordinary.
So if anyone wants to buy some ASE's for their own personal library (I know I do!) try eBay.
The last line of the book summed up the whole thing for me. I'm going to put it in italics because putting it in all caps would be me yelling at you (though it deserves yelling: "More than 141 million books were given to the american armed forces. More books that Hitler ever destroyed".