Library News

By: Paul Schwartz
For: Red Rock News
Date: May 29, 2015

Books Brought Comfort to World War II Servicemen

Memorial Day, which today is merely a day off that marks the beginning of summer, was originally a solemn holiday intended to honor those who died in the military service of our country. This year, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, so it is especially appropriate that we remember those who served and died in that conflict.

Over 16 million Americans served in the Armed Forces in World War II. We tend to see that war through the eyes of the innumerable movies made about it—all combat and chaos. But for every hour of combat our soldiers and sailors endured, there were many more hours of sheer boredom spent in foxholes or at sea. Realizing this, the U.S. Armed Services decided to provide them with what was then state-of-the-art entertainment—books.

At first, citizens were asked to donate hardcover books to be sent overseas, and millions of books were collected. But it soon became apparent that a soldier with an 80-pound pack on his back, a heavy rifle over his shoulder, and many more pounds of ammo hanging from his person did not need an additional 10 pounds of books to carry around as he slogged through the mud. So, mobilizing the best minds in U.S. publishing, the Services embarked upon an amazing program: the mass publishing of lightweight, easily carried paperback books that were distributed free of charge to servicemen. They were published in two sizes, one to fit in the shirt pocket and one to fit in the back pocket, and they were set in four columns across the spread instead of the usual upright format. Over the course of the program, an amazing 1,322 titles were published.

While Hitler was busy burning books, we were busy publishing and distributing them. The slogan of the program was “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas.” There was something for every taste: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, sports, mysteries, Westerns, classics, and best-sellers. The very first book in the series was Ross’s “The Education of Hyman Kaplan.” Perhaps this was the Services’ way of acknowledging that those who served came from every walk of life and every ethnic background.

You can read about this amazing program, which ushered in the paperback revolution, in “When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II” by Molly Guptill Manning. It's available in our collection.

On a personal note, when I read this book I imagined my father reading these specially produced paperbacks. I never met him (he died in combat) but I know from the books he left behind that he was an avid, eclectic reader. I like to think that in his foxhole in the frozen Apennines he was deep into “Moby Dick,” “Candide,” or “The Grapes of Wrath.” But I would forgive him if, wanting to get away from the awful miseries of war, he chose “My World and Welcome to It,” “Hopalong Cassidy Serves a Writ,” or “The Big Sleep.” There was truly something for everyone!

Sedona Public Library is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, supported by donations and grants. Your tax deductible donation may be sent to: Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, Sedona, AZ 86336.

Sedona Public Library is located at 3250 White Bear Road in West Sedona. Library hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sedona Public Library in the Village is located at 7000 Highway 179, Suite D-100, in the courtyard of Tequa Plaza. Library hours in the Village are Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

You may call the main Library at 928.282.7714 and SPL-V at 928.284.1603 for more information about exhibits and services that we offer.

Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News and is also presented on Sedona Biz.
Paul Schwartz is a Member of the Library Board of Trustees of Sedona Public Library.