My friend, Deb Baker, is a librarian, a book reviewer, a Mindful Reader columnist for the New Hampshire Sunday News, and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Deb loves books and loves sharing her vast knowledge of books and readers. I consider her “all knowing” about books. I turn to her reviews quite often for ideas on what to read next. One of her recent reviews on When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning started me thinking about how reading serves as a comfort, serves as an escape, and serves as a refuge. Deb’s full review can be found at http://bookconscious.wordpress.com, but I am enclosing an excerpt about When Books Went to War here.
“American librarians launched a massive nationwide book drive to help stock training camp libraries and get books into the hands of millions of newly drafted U.S. servicemen. Although the drive was successful, donated books were sometimes too large, heavy, outdated, or uninteresting. In 1942, various members of the publishing industry came together to form The Council on Books in Wartime, and adopted the slogan, “Books are weapons in the war of ideas.” That sounds Orwellian, but the council was a force for good. 1,200 titles, classics and contemporary fiction, nonfiction and poetry, were produced in small, lightweight paperbacks called Armed Services Editions, around 120 million copies in all, shipped wherever Americans served around the world. Along the way, the council championed authors banned at home and abroad, navigated the politics of a presidential election, and promoted lifelong learning and a love of reading. At the end of the war, they produced a series of Overseas Editions and shipped 3.6 million of them to war-torn, book-starved Europe.”
As I read Deb’s review, I could picture a soldier reading a book from back home and in my imagination the book was a refuge and a reminder of different lives and different worlds. I can also envision a box full of books arriving at a book-starved community in Europe, and I can imagine the joy of having the written word to use as a respite from daily trials.
I think of my own reading, and I admit, at various points in my life, the comfort of a book helped me get from one day to the next. One of the reasons I feel children need to learn to read and then be encouraged to read widely is so they always have a safe harbor to rest and regroup. In our academic setting, we focus a lot on reading to learn. However, to me, reading to rest and regroup is just an admirable pursuit. I encourage us to remember the comfort felt by our armed services personnel and by many worn torn Europeans as they picked up a book someone thoughtfully placed in their ways. I also hope reading can serve as a comfort to you.