Friday, October 06, 2006

File under "never again"

Despite this blog being called the "survival of the book," implying a look at what might happen as we make our way forth into the great unknown, I want to take a minute to step back in book time, to look at these fascinating books published by the Editions for the Armed Services.

My coworker mentioned such a book that she found in a used bookstore, and then she remembered to bring it into work today. It's quite incredible, most of all because of what they chose to publish in this particular instance: Selected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker. This is one of the editions, I believe, that featured a jacket on the front that was not from any actual volume - just a fun fact.

So the idea is that this group must have had contracts with big publishers - Vintage et al - to publish excerpts or digests in small editions that could fit into a soldier's pocket. These were published in the early 1940s, so patriotism was high as our boys fighting in WWII.

I'm quite amazed that they would choose Ms. Parker, a bitchy ol' queen, witty and cynical. Not what we think of when we think of the Greatest Generation. The other titles range from Willa Cather's My Antonia to stories by Mark Twain, H. G. Well's fantasies and Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam. Just a bizarre, wide-ranging assortment. They also did samplings from New Yorker profiles.

However, the powers that be did not publish these things, they didn't make their choices, willy-nilly. Daniel J. Miller did a project on these books and explained, "Taft proposed Title V to prevent government-sponsored literature 'containing political argument or political propaganda of any kind designed or calculated to affect the result of any election.'" Some were banned because they seemed sympathetic to Communists, but at least one was banned for another reason: "Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage, because of its anti-Mormon rhetoric."

Fascinating, and hard to imagine such a publishing venture now - though someone tells me they heard about a contemporary book series that is similar. I heard about this devotional, but that's much different. I'll have to look into it. Assisting women and men (though at that time, only men) in the military, during active combat, in getting their hands on various literature... it's a great idea, but considering that our soldiers haven't even had full protection from road bombs and what-not, and that we are not technically at war, I can't imagine Bush's budget includes money for books. And, in fact, I'd say conservatives would fear the idea of soldiers reading fiction of all kinds, that they didn't 100% control. It makes me wonder if our soldiers are reading a lot in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interesting question...

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