Collection of 212 Armed Services Editions
New York: Editions for the Armed Services Inc. / Council on Books in Wartime, 1942. Very Good. Item #25958
New York: Editions for the Armed Services Inc. / Council on Books in Wartime, [1942-1945]. All First Editions Thus. Small oblong 12mos (ca. 10x14cm. to 11.5x17cm.); pictorial wrappers; occasional illus., chiefly found in the volumes of cartoon collections and "Soldier Art." Most volumes show some edge wear and soil, occasional wrappers creased, textblocks uniformly toned due to inferior paper quality, one volume (Carl Sandburg's "Selected Poems") with biopredation to rear cover briefly affecting text. Nevertheless, a Very Good collection overall.
The Council on Books in Wartime was founded in the spring of 1942 as the United States's involvement in the War was building momentum. The non-profit's design was two-fold: to provide entertainment and education through books to those serving in the armed services, and to combat the rise of the "bibliocaust" as witnessed by the book burnings in Germany. The Council's first order of business was to organize a "Victory Book Campaign," which successfully collected more than a million volumes for the cause. Unfortunately, most of these were either deemed unsuitable reading or too bulky.
Enter book designer H. Stanley Thompson and publisher Malcolm Johnson. The two men proposed something utterly different than having the Council rely entirely on the whims of book donations. Instead, they would issue their own series, a collection of books in diverse areas of interest, free of government censorship, formatted to fit in your pocket. By the time the Council was dissolved, in 1946, they had issued more than 122 million copies of more than 1300 titles.
This collection is comprised of a relatively small but not inconsequential selection from that series, which relied heavily on the day's bestsellers. Many are long forgotten, while others have endured, such as Raymond Chandler's noir "The Big Sleep" or John Steinbeck's novels "Cannery Row," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "The Pastures of Heaven." The collection also includes a number of tried-and-true classics, from Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" to Jack London's "White Fang" and "The Sea Wolf"; from Bram Stoker's "Dracula" to H.G. Wells's "The War of the Worlds."
Studying this ASE title list also provides a snapshot of the reading tastes of the general American public during the war. Louis Untermeyer's editorship appears on nearly all the poetry selections, from Robert Frost's to John Keats'; books on jazz, swing, and baseball abound, represented here by titles like Benny Goodman and Irving Kolodin's "The Kingdom of Swing" or Frank Graham's short introductions to "The Brooklyn Dodgers" and "The New York Yankees." The most popular area of genre fiction represented in this collection by far is the Western, epitomized here by William Sister Haine's "Slim."
A splendid collection and a rich teaching tool, the complete short title list available upon request.
Cara Giaimo. "How Books Designed for Soldiers' Pockets Changed Publishing Forever" (2017), available on the Atlas Obscura website.
Molly Guptill Manning. "When Books Went to War" (2014).