Tag Archives: war

Books and war

I’ve been immersed in World War One pamphlets that arrived here at the Maine Historical Society (my day job) about 100 years ago. We finally decided to catalog them, so this is my summer project. Amidst the pamphlets are letters from the American Library Association’s War Service Committee to librarians, asking for men to go into librarianship, as well as asking for book donations.

According to Wikipedia, The Library War Service was established by the American Library Association in 1917 to provide library services to American soldiers training in camps and serving overseas in World War I. Between 1917 and 1920, the ALA raised $5 million from public donations, erected 36 camp libraries, distributed 7 to 10 million books and magazines, and provided library collections to more than 500 locations, including military hospitals.

I find this all so fascinating, about how books and libraries were necessary during war time. So when I found the book “When books went to war: the stories that helped us win World War II” by Molly Guptill Manning at the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association, I checked it out.

Inside this book, I found wonderful tales of how books indeed were used in fighting the war, mostly in providing a book for every soldier, to help improve morale as they fought a war in the most dismal and horrendous of situations. Some of the book movement was a backlash to the book burning going on in Germany, in an effort to control what people were reading. But there is also interesting information about publishing of paperbacks for soldiers, that were lightweight to carry as they traveled into war torn areas. Anyone who believes in the power of bibliotherapy will find this a thrilling read.

On a different but related note, there are, of course, wonderful novels that take place during war-time. Two of note that relate to World War One are “The summer before the war” by Helen Simonson, and “A star for Mrs. Blake” by April Smith. I’m reading “The summer before the war” right now – as the Belgian refugees are taken in by villagers in Rye, I think about the many pamphlets I’ve catalogued about the German invasion of Belgium, when over 200,000 refugees fled to Britain. This novel helps to bring that fact to life. “A star for Mrs. Blake” is about Cora Blake, of Maine, who makes a pilgrimage to France in the 1930s, with other Gold Star Mothers who lost their sons during World War I.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War I let’s take the opportunity to recognize the role of books in wartime.

The home front in fiction

I’ve read a few books recently that address our 21st century home front by approaching it through fiction, whether through novels or short stories. In “Home front” by Kristin Hannah, the author portrays a woman soldier who has trained most of her adult life to be a military pilot, and finally gets to see some action in Afghanistan, to the dismay of her increasingly estranged husband, surly teenage daughter, and clingy younger daughter. Unfortunately things don’t work out well for Joline, our heroine, but ultimately the family comes together. While not a literary masterpiece, “Home front” does give a different kind of perspective – of the female soldier, with her family left behind to try to hold it together without mom, the glue of the family.

In “You know when the men are gone” by Siobhan Fallon, these sometimes interlinked short stories that take place at Fort Hood, Texas, show various sides to the story, and mostly that “war is hell” on relationships. Some do better than others, but overall the characters are all just doing the best they can (more or less). Better written than “Home front” there is sometimes a dry humor that keeps the book from being too depressing, given the subject matter.

And on the poetry end, “Blood Red Dawn,” mentioned in the April 2nd post, gives both the home front and front lines perspective, by way of poetry – written by the author as a catharsis and way of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are many more perspectives out there – anyone have a favorite war or home front book, perhaps from earlier wars than the current ones our soldiersbench in memory of Susie and Larry Rich are bravely fighting, where their loved ones are left behind to pick up the pieces?