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So did westerns and mysteries. Despite this, the Council made a deliberate effort to skew its selections toward the more literary end of the spectrum.

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An early plan, drafted by the army scarcely a week after Pearl Harbor, specified that the books be "of a popular or recreational nature, with picture and cartoon books in quantity. When the Council assumed control of the effort, it set its sights substantially higher. The box of 30 or 40 books shipped to thousands of units each month might include This is Murder, Mr.

Almost all were available only as expensive hardbacks on the civilian market, and a few were original compilations made exclusively for the program. The goal, as W.

100 Must-Read World War II Books

Norton explained , was to offer "new books and books of enduring value," that might keep soldiers and sailors "in touch with thought and currents of life in their country. In this, publishers mixed high-minded idealism with enlightened self-interest. Stranded in overseas bases, fighting off boredom, many readers picked up books they might not otherwise have touched, grateful to have anything to read at all.

Some were annoyed to be stuck with histories, poetry, or literary novels. Many more, though, found their first exposure to serious books addictive. One GI with an unusual vantage point was Joe Allen, who went from the Council directly into the ranks as a private soldier, and had a chance to see its impact first hand. The books belonged to the soldiers themselves. They passed them around. They sliced them apart to share in installments.

They read them aloud to their buddies. Literature, no longer restricted to those who could afford it, became their common possession. A fighter pilot in the China-Burma-India theater reported that his British counterparts found the program "smashing," helpfully translating that as "super-dooper. Some of the selections were idiosyncratic. In , Council picked out an older novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that had never achieved popular success. It sold just copies the previous year, and another 33 in before going out of print. The , copies of The Great Gatsby that they shipped out to the troops dwarfed all its previous print runs combined.

Buoyed by that exposure, it would go on to become one of the great publishing successes of the 20th century. More often, though, participation came at a substantial short-term cost for the publishing industry. No book generated more passion among its readers than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn , a gritty coming-of-age novel.

24. World War II

On a Pacific island, a lucky soldier given a new copy "howled with joy," but knew he'd have to sleep on top of it if he hoped to hang onto it long enough to finish it. A year-old Marine "went through hell" in two years of combat, but wrote from his stateside hospital bed that the book had made him feel human again. It might, he conceded, be "unusual for a supposedly battle-hardened marine to do such an effeminate thing as weep over a piece of fiction," but he was now making his way through the book for the third time.

In France, the colonel commanding an anti-aircraft battalion being shelled by German artillery found one of his soldiers reading the book between explosions. It sure was funny. But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was not an old classic that had passed out of copyright, nor a title that had exhausted its market and sat languishing on a backlist. The coming-of-age tale was a bestseller in , when ASE printed up 52, copies and shipped them abroad.

It was third on the bestseller list in , when ASE produced a second run of 76, copies. Civilian readers snapped up the expensive hardcover editions. GIs read the book for free.

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With royalties for ASE editions set at just a penny a volume, split between the author and the publisher, both were passing up enormous sums by allowing their book to be distributed as an Armed Services Edition. This was an act of patriotism, but also a gamble that they would benefit, in the long run, from such exposure. And it was a real gamble. It was far from certain that GIs would continue to read after returning home, much less that they would look for serious books once lighter fare was again abundant.

Sales had stagnated during the First World War, and then slumped with peace. Publishers feared the same might happen again. In World War Two, soldiers picked up books out of boredom and desperation. At home, though, there would be a host of alternatives competing for their attention. And how could former soldiers be persuaded to see books as valuable, when they had grown used to viewing them as disposable?

Jacobs offered an answer. Veterans would keep reading if books remained ubiquitous. Sell paper-bound books at newsstands and drugstores and grocers, and make them as abundant, and almost as cheap, as they had been during the war.

World War II: reading guide

Some soldiers might abandon books, but "the reading habits acquired by millions Sales of paperbacks did slump , precisely as feared, in Surprisingly, though, it was the lighter fare that failed to sell. More serious works held their ground. Publishers adjusted, and redoubled their efforts at marketing. They found thousands of new outlets, precisely as Jacobs envisioned. They expanded their selection of titles, offering up literary novels, histories, collections of poetry, and books about science alongside their mysteries and westerns.

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Sales picked up. By , publishers sold million copies of separate paperback titles, enough for every adult in the country to have bought a couple books.

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Far from destroying the traditional market, H. Kaltenborn had prophesied back in , cheap and abundant books would help it flourish. And the ten cent book will make even the two dollar book more popular than it is today. Otherwise, he was absolutely correct. Suddenly, anyone who wanted to could fill a shelf with books.

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  • Paperbacks lost their stigma. The Armed Services Editions succeeded in "conditioning the younger generation to be perfectly at home with books in paper covers. Many readers first hooked with paperbacks later purchased hardcovers, fueling sales and providing the old-line publishing industry with a vastly larger market for its wares.

    Students bought paperbacks for their courses, as they headed back to school on the GI Bill. Support our work! Want personalized picks that fit your family? Find entertainment that fits your kid's interests and your parenting style. Did this specific Top Picks list help you decide to do any of the following? Buy, rent, or download a particular media title. Did not impact my decision.