Friday, November 14, 2014

When Books Went to War review

When Books Went to War is a WWII social history perfect for book lovers. During the war years book publishers, libraries, and the American public responded to this great conflict by donating millions of free books to US troops across the world. Early in the war the Victory Book Campaign collected millions  of books in nation-wide book drives. The Council on Books in Wartime, an association of publishers and booksellers, worked with the US government to produce millions of pocket-size paperback editions.

Molly Guptill Manning explains how good books saved GIs from homesickness and fought Nazi ideology at the same time. Hitler's regime sought to conquer minds through book burnings, the destruction of European libraries, and the disbursement of propaganda. American publishers and librarians promoted nonfiction books as a way to inform this country's citizen soldiers. Thought-provoking novels displayed the freedom found in democratic society. Indeed, the CBW was instrumental in combating censorship at home when Congress enacted a law limiting the kind of books sent to the troops.

Reading books lifted the spirits of war-weary soldiers and sailors. This was a relief to the individual men, and the increase in morale improved the fighting capabilities of American forces overall. Manning shares numerous letters written by GIs who were beyond thankful to receive their Armed Services Editions. In this excellent read Manning reveals books' importance to the war effort, while conveying the personal feelings of those involved: the passion of publishers and librarians and the psychology of men at war.

See Kirkus' book review.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

WWII Army Special Services Librarians

"Want a good book?" Army Librarian section books for soldiers. Left to Right: Sgt. Seymore Grobzob, Virginia Hallowell, Elizabeth City (from Elizabeth City, NC), and Sgt. Caffey. US Army Forces, Western Pacific (AFWESPAC). Manilla, Philippines. August 19, 1946.
I asked the US National Archives if they had any photo of WWII GIs with books, and they sent me some shots of WWII Army Special Services Librarians in the Pacific. Sadly, there is little information to be found about the Special Services Librarians. They were part of the Women's Army Corps.

WWII Special Services Librarian patch. The 9 books represent the 9 branches of the Army. (found on eBay)
6000 New Books arrive from the States for Army Librarians. Left to right: Annie Laurie Etchison, Chief Librarian, AFWESPAC (from Cleveland, OH); Lt. Col. Justin Doyle, Director "A & R", AFWESPAC; Virginia Hallowel. August 19, 1946.
Left to right: Mr. Albaz (Manila) and Annie Laurie Etchison. August 19, 1946.

Further Reading: has a great post "We remember: Army special services librarians".

I discovered Books and Libraries in American Society during World War II by Patti Clayton Becker (Routledge). Unfortunately it is a rather expensive monograph, and it's a print-on-demand book (printed books are not kept in stock). I actually did order a copy, but over a month went by without receiving the book, so I canceled my order.

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Books and Articles about Publishing in WWII

This month I was pleased to see some articles and books about publishing during WWII:

"Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II" on The Atlantic, September 10, 2014. An in-depth piece on the Council on Books in Wartime.

"How 'Gatsby' Went From A Moldering Flop To A Great American Novel" on NPR's Fresh Air, September 8, 2014. Author Maureen Corrigan discusses how the Armed Services Edition of The Great Gatsby lead to it's post-war popularity (starts at minute 23). For more info you can read a similar article I wrote "WWII-Era Book Giveaway Boosted Popularity of The Great Gatsby".

American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street is being published by Princeton University Press in October. It's about all kinds of pulp paperbacks, but there is a chapter about the Armed Services Editions.

When Books Went to War : The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II is being published by Houghton Mifflin in December.  This new book focuses on the Council on Books in Wartime, but there is a discussion of the Victory Book Campaign too.

"Victory Book Campaign brought reading to World War II troops" in the Emmons County Record. The author interviewed me back in the spring, but I only just saw the article.

"Victory drive mustered thousands of books in 1942" in the Times Tribune. This piece focuses on book drive efforts local to Scranton, PA.

Monday, September 8, 2014

WWII Military Library Stamps 2

Stamp on the cover of Is Sex Necessary? by James Thurber, 1944.
The acronym NYPE appearing in the ship-shaped rubber stamp above stands for New York Port of Embarkation. New York City was one of the coastal cities where troops embarked to be shipped overseas. 

Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge, 1944.
From 1943 to 1945 the 52nd General Hospital treated wounded in the English Midlands. The medical staff was composed of graduates of Syracuse University College of Medicine. I found a photo of the hospital ward there on the US National Library of Medicine website. It looks like there is a stack of books on the table! New York Heritage also has a collection of photos of the hospital.

The Travels of Marco Polo, edited by Manual Komroff, 1944.
Ilag VII was a German internment camp built in Bavaria to imprison Allied civilians (mostly Americans and British) captured as German forces invaded Europe. The stamp above has the word gepr├╝ft which means "inspected and approved"—the Germans would not allow reading material that criticized their people or government in any way. This Marco Polo book was probably donated to the prison by the Red Cross.

Selected Short Stories, by O. Henry, 1944.
The publishers who provided books as Armed Services Editions were very anxious to keep these paperbacks outside of the US (for fear of flooding the market). Military hospitals were eventually allowed distribute ASEs, but they were supposed to be destroyed after the war. This copy of Selected Short Stories somehow survived its stay at the Fairfield-Suisun Air Field hospital (now Travis Air Force Base, California).

The Pearl Lagoon, by Charles Nordhoff, 1945.

Part of the duties of the Special Services Division of the US Army was to improve morale with books.

Great Smith, by Edison Marshall, 1943.
The War Prisoners Aid of the YMCA sent spiritual, educational, and recreational materials to prisoners of war in Europe. This book was stamped by the sender in Switzerland (the stamp was not put there by the receiving library).

My previous post WWII Military Library Book Stamps includes nine other stamped books.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Photos of WWII GIs Reading

I found couple nice photos of GIs reading in the National Archives collection. It looks like the guy above is reading a Pocket Book paperback. Here's the original caption: Enlisted men at the transmitter pool of the signal section of the US Seventh Army in Germany, relax by reading and playing cards in the enlisted men's quarters. January 3, 1946. (I cropped out the guys playing cards)

Original caption: These men of the 3rd Constabulary Regiment are shown as they make use of a few of theor off-duty moments in the mobile library which is being used at their station until the new library is ready for use. The 3rd Constabulary Regiment is located in Wetzlar, Germany, where they are in training for occupational duties. April 24, 1946.

Monday, July 28, 2014

London Bookstore During the Blitz, 1940

Photographer George Rodger took this shot of a W H Smith & Son bookstore in London, 1940. I found the image in Magnum's collection.

From UK National Archives.
In September 1940 the German Luftwaffe launched a campaign of terror bombings on cities in Southern England. The British government put regulations in place that required citizens to cover up their windows at night. All outdoor lighting was extinguished as well. The blackout made getting around in public difficult (and often dangerous) after sundown, so it was easier to simply stay home and read. The blackout restrictions did not end until Germany's defeat in the spring of 1945.

The sign in the photograph's foreground tells customers that newspapers and magazines are available only to subscribers. This was due to the strict paper rationing during the war years. The military had tremendous needs for paper, so publishers had to carefully conserve their paper allotment.

Shire Publications has a lot of nice small histories about The Blitz and the British homefront. Check out Wartime Britain by Mike Brown, The Blitz and The 1940s Home by Peter Doyle.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

World Book Night and the Armed Services Editions

About this time last year I noticed a lot of bookish people on Twitter talking about World Book Night. Founded in 2011 in the United Kingdom and 2012 in the United States, World Book Night is an annual April 23rd giveaway of thousands of free paperback books. As I read more about the program I recognized many parallels with the Armed Services Editions book giveaway program during WWII. Despite the similarities, the founders of WBN were not actively following the ASEs as a model.

These days the memory of the Armed Services Editions resides mostly in the minds of vintage book collectors. So, this year I thought it would be interesting to compare the two book giveaway programs. Today’s World Book Night is an international event (US, UK, and Ireland). The Armed Services Editions program of the 1940s was limited to Americans, so I’m focusing my comparison to World Book Night US.


World Book Night US is run by an independent nonprofit organization. World Book Night UK also began as an independent charity, but now it is one of several programs run by The Reading Agency. In 1943 the Armed Services Editions was one of many programs managed by a US nonprofit organization, the Council on Books in Wartime. In January of 1944 it was spun off into its own independent nonprofit corporation under the name Editions for the Armed Services, Inc. Although it was then legally separate from the CBW, the same people staffed the two organizations.

The organizations managing the book giveaways in the 1940s and today were headed by book publishing professionals. Members of the Board of Directors of World Book Night US include executives from major publishers, book distributors, and book sellers (see staff listing on their website). The Board of Directors for the Council on Books in Wartime was filled with the similar publishing leaders, often representing the very same publishers then as today (see the full list in my earlier post).

Selected Titles

World Book Night and the Armed Services Editions have both taken existing popular books and repackaged them as specially-branded paperbacks to donate to people unused to reading recreationally. The book selection process for the two programs appears to be very similar. The 30 to 35 WBN US books each year are chosen by a panel of librarians and booksellers. Books chosen for the ASEs (30 to 40 each month) were decided by a special committee of publishing staff, librarians, and booksellers. Because the ASEs were destined for the troops, the selection committee also included a representative from the Army, the Navy, and the government’s Office of War Information.

World Book Night titles are recently published fiction and nonfiction books, along with some classics. Likewise, the titles selected for the Armed Services Editions were new general trade books with classics that were not already available as paperbacks. Both organizations have sought to pick quality books that would likely be entertaining to people who are not in the habit of reading.


The World Book Night website says that their books are given to people, “who don’t regularly read and/or people who don’t normally have access to printed books, for reasons of means or geography.” The same could be said of the Armed Services Editions program. While WBN US donates books to the public across the United States*, the ASEs were distributed by the military to Americans serving abroad. Red Cross and USO clubs, permanent military bases, and large navy ships sometimes had a small library, but the selection was limited. These military library books reached only a small percentage of American troops, and as one officer in the Army Library Service wrote,  “The collections varied from mediocre to bad.” GIs in the field or at sea had virtually no ordinary access to books. Having grown up during the Great Depression, many of the GIs were reading recreationally for the first time thanks to the ASEs.

*WBN US also donates books to the military through individual volunteers and by partnering with Operation Gratitude.


Authors and publishers involved in WBN agree to forgo royalties. The publishers of books included in the list are responsible for their respective printing costs. Further funding is provided by donations from various members of the publishing industry (see list of 2104 WBN Partners) and individuals. Volunteers distribute the books locally.

During WWII the US government paid for the production, storage, shipping, and distribution of the ASEs. There was a 1 cent royalty for each copy. Half a cent was paid to the author and half a cent to the publisher. ASEs were shipped overseas along with other military supplies.

Armed Services Editions from my collection alongside a couple titles from the 2013 World Book Night US.


Both the World Book Night books and the Armed Services Editions were printed specifically for the giveaways. Books from both programs were printed as paperbacks (hardcover books would be more expensive to produce and ship). WBN and ASE books were printed with specially-branded covers. While WBN paperbacks are the same size as general trade paperbacks (6 x 9 inches, 5½ x 8½ in, etc.), ASE paperbacks were printed much smaller (5½ x 3⅞ inches or 6½ x 4½) in order to fit in a GI’s pocket. In a previous post I wrote a detailed description of the production of ASE paperbacks.

Print Runs

In its first year the World Book Night in the UK was called, “the biggest book giveaway ever” (see “World Book Night giveaway goes international” on The Guardian). In 2011 WBN UK distributed one million copies in Britain. The next year WBN UK printed one million books again, and WBN US debuted with 500,000 for American readers. That’s a combined 2,500,000 books in two years’ time. In 1943, the first year of the Armed Services Editions program, a whopping six million free books were printed for distribution to GIs.

In 2013 WBN UK reduced its print run to 500,000 copies, and this year they halved it again to 250,000. In 2013 WBN US distributed 500,000 copies, and it moved up to 550,000 for 2014. So, after four years the combined number of US and UK books given away will be 4,300,000. From 1943 to the fall of 1946 123,535,305 ASE books were put in the hands of GIs. ASEs continued to be printed for the US troops who served in post-war Europe and Asia. By the summer of 1947 the final total of books printed was 108,512,000. With the backing of the US government at war, the Armed Services Editions is likely to remain the biggest book giveaway ever.

A recovering GI getting a haircut and reading the Armed Services Edition of Hell on Ice, by Edward Ellberg.

Readers’ Reactions

World Book Night has had a passionate response from book-lovers. Tens of thousands of people volunteer every year to be the book givers who distribute the free books. Givers follow up with the recipients, and you can read some of their reader feedback on the WBN US website.

In World War II, homesick American GIs were delighted to have books to distract them from military life. Colonoel Trautman, the Army representative on the ASE selection board, reported that “The only complaint the boys have about the books is that there just aren't enough of them.” While, the New York Times Book Review called ASEs, “more popular than pin-up girls.”

Effect on the Publishing Business

When World Book Night debuted there was concern from some booksellers that the free books would hurt their sales. Some authors thought that the giveaway would devalue the public perception of books. Yet, it is ordinary for the book publishing industry to give away thousands of free books every year as advance reader copies. Free books create word-of-mouth, which sells more books. The hundreds of thousands of books given away on World Book Night are actually good for business. Publishers’ Weekly reported that the titles included in the 2013 WBN US saw a 32% sales increase after the giveaway.

Considering the millions free books involved in the Armed Services Editions giveaway, publishers in the 1940s were very wary of flooding the market. Their agreement with the US government stipulated that the ASEs were not to enter civilian hands. Initially the ASEs could only be distributed outside the United States. This rule was relaxed somewhat when the Council on Books in Wartime allowed ASEs into military hospitals on US soil (but the books had to be destroyed after reading). The flimsy paperback books themselves were designed to be disposable. When the war ended excess stock in government warehouses had to be pulped. The ASE program was very good for business. It cost publishers almost nothing, and the free books encouraged the habit of reading to millions of men in the military. This is thought to have been one of the reasons for the boom in book buying in the later 1940s and 1950s (see my post on The Great Gatsby).

Additional References A great resource devoted to ASEs.

The Guardian has numerous articles about World Book Night.

A History of the Council on Books in Wartime, 1942–1946. New York, 1946. The CBW published this history before the nonprofit corporation was dissolved in 1946.

Jamieson, John. Books for the Army: The Army Library Service in the Second World War. Columbia University Press, New York, 1950.

Jamieson, John. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc.: A History, Together With the Complete List of the 1,324 Books Published for American Armed Forces Overseas. New York, 1948.