Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The Great Gatsby and The War of Ideas
The Big Read – D.C. aims to prove that there’s more to the story than just the city book and certainly THE GREAT GATSBY is no exception.
Little did we know THE GREAT GATSBY was one of many titles that introduced the paperback book to the American publishing scene. This cultural and consumer phenomenon was launched by none other than the United States Armed Services.
Between 1943 and 1947 nearly 123 million copies of 1,322 titles of these flat, wide, and very packetable paperbacks were distributed to U.S. Armed Forces around the world according to John Y. Cole of the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book in his Introduction to a collection of essays for Books In Action The Armed Services Editions, released in 1984.
The Council of Books in Wartime was a consortium of trade book publishers, librarians, and booksellers formed in 1942 to contribute to the “war effort of the United Peoples” through books during World War II. This “war effort” was also part of the “war of ideas” in Europe. These paperback books not only made their way into the hands of soldiers and U.S. military personnel overseas, but also nationals in Europe especially occupied Europe to counteract the Nazi propaganda and censorship – a response to the book burnings that began in 1933.
The U.S. wartime campaign launched the “war of ideas” with slogans like “The Nazis Burned These Books: But Free Americans Can Still Read Them” and “Books are Weapons.”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibit, “Fighting the Fires of Hate” explores this era which includes a list of banned authors.
At the time of its Armed Services Edition reprint, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY appeared to be coming out of a publishing slump – not a best seller. It’s not surprising to find it among known and lesser-known titles (as of today) reprinted by the Council of Books in Wartime. Also noted - it appears no books authored by African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American writers prior to 1943 were part of the Armed Services Editions reprints. This blog welcomes feedback or more information about the Armed Services Editions.
Here’s a partial list of titles from the Armed Services Editions project (a full list is available in the Library of Congress document mentioned earlier. * = Big Read title):
BELLAMANN, HENRY. King's Row
BENEFIELD, BARRY. The Chicken-Wagon Family
BENSON, SALLY. Meet Me in St. Louis
BRONTE, CHARLOTTE. Jane Eyre
ROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT, and ROBERT BROWNING. Love Poems
BURROUGHS, EDGAR RICE. Tarzan of the Apes
CAIN, JAMES M. The Postman Always Rings Twice
CATHER, WILLA. My Antonia*
CHANDLER, RAYMOND. The Big Sleep
DICKENS, CHARLES. Oliver Twist
DINESEN, ISAK. Winter's Tales
DU MAURIER, DAPHNE. Rebecca
FITZGERALD, F. SCOTT. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories
GOODMAN, JACK. The Fireside Book of Dog Stories
GOODMAN, JACK, and ALAN GREEN. How to Do Practically Anything
GREENE, GRAHAM. The Ministry of Fear
HEYWARD, Du BOSE. Star Spangled Virgin
JACKSON, CHARLES. The Lost Weekend
LONDON, JACK. The Call of the Wild*
MAUGHAM, W. SOMERSET. The Razor's Edge
PORTER, KATHERINE ANNE. Selected Short Stories
STEINBECK, JOHN. The Grapes of Wrath*
THOREAU, HENRY D. Walden
THURBER, JAMES, and E. B. WHITE. Is Sex Necessary?
TUCKER, SOPHIE. Some of These Days
TWAIN, MARK. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer*
VIDAL, GORE. Williwaw
WELLS, H. G. The War of the Worlds