08 October 2009

Books for War, Books for Soldiers

I found this picture mentioned peripherally on a tweet from the redoubtable book blog Book Patrol coming out of Seattle, the caffeine capital of the world. It shows the results of a book drive in World War One--bundles of books on the steps of New York Public library. The actual poster urging people to bring books to libraries "for our men in camp and 'over there'" is hanging in the background- a jumbo size version. It is by Charles Buckles Falls and came out of a poster project at the Division of Pictorial Publicity, part of the Committee on Public Information; the campaign was lead by Charles Dana Gibson, the creator of of the Gibson Girl image and those charming large white illustrated books (which are always worth less than you would think.) The poster seems to sell for several hundred dollars and giclee repros for about a $100 if a good size.

There was also a move in England during WW1 to get citizens to donate books for the war effort. These were not for the soldiers who were busy reading cheap copies of fiction by Buchan, Sapper and Ian Hay; because of a paper shortage the books were pulped. I have heard that this is one of the reasons that Victorian three volume novels ('three deckers') are so rare. In 1914 a three decker novel was like a Betamax video is in 2009 - obsolete, vieux jeu and space intensive. I have heard dealers speculate about this and it may be a myth - pulp fiction, you might say.

Do soldiers still need books? Did they have campaigns like this in WW2, Vietnam or the Gulf War? And when the books go to war (like all the books on the NY Public library steps) how many make it back? Some do, I know, because I have bought them. Typically they come back somewhat the worse for wear. One thinks of stories of soldiers carrying books in vest pockets (usually bibles) that saved their life by stopping a bullet ('bullet hole through middle of book else fine...')

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