Monday, December 4, 2017

Books Go Marching Off To War!

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War IIWhen Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They don't call them The Greatest Generation for nothing! I knew they were called that because of the sacrifices they made during World War II. What I didn't know was that part of their legacy was solidified after the war.

Soldiers in WWII LOVED to read. Some of them hadn't so much as picked up a book outside of mandatory school reading. However, when they got into the Army and Navy they realized they had a lot of boring down-time. Without video games and things like movies not being readily available or portable, soldiers turned to books.

In turn, books transformed themselves for the soldiers, who needed lightweight reading material. The publishing world's predilection for hardcovers didn't work mobility-wise. Thus paperbacks took off like gangbusters and millions were shipped around the globe to wherever the armed services were stationed. This was not an easy task and much of the book focuses on this undertaking.

I was fairly, though not 100%, sure what I was in for when I picked up When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II. I mean, I didn't expect to read about gun-toting novels marching off to war. On the other hand, could the title be referring to propaganda tracts printed and sent to the various fronts? Nope, it just refers to the dissemination of good old normal books, some of which became very popular amongst the ranks.

When Books Went to War describes how the reading generation of the war years created classics out of forgotten books -The Great Gatsby is one example- which now we take for granted as having always been consistently popular. That period also created a whole generation of educated youths who hungered for learning once they were done fighting. That was the big take-away of this book for me. The young men coming out of the war were disciplined machines with a drive and ability to consume knowledge. On the GI bill, they went to college and tore through more books, studying harder and getting better grades than the career students from rich families that prior-to constituted most campuses. The former soldiers then went into business administration and engineering on a scale never seen before. That, to me, is the lasting legacy of the Greatest Generation. It wasn't sitting on their laurels and patting themselves on the back for the brave and noble work they'd done during the war. It was what they were then able to accomplish after their tremendous sacrifice and struggle.

This is quite a good read. However, it's a book about books, so go into it with that in mind. It's not going to be a scorcher. When Molly Manning isn't writing about how books were transported and distributed, etc she's often giving a rather dry summary of the war. Having said that, you're here on, so you're already a book nerd, ergo I have a feeling you'll get some level of enjoyment out of this. Now, I'm off to find a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to find out why it was arguably the most popular book amongst American soldiers!

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The Many Mulliners

Meet Mr. Mulliner (Mr. Mulliner, #1)Meet Mr. Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read so many P.G. Wodehouse books now that, without looking, I can guess when each book was written. It's my parlor trick/super power.

Now, you may say, "Koivu, no one cares. And furthermore, you're an idiot." However, when you consider that Wodehouse wrote over 70 novels (not to mention dozens of plays, story collections, movie scripts, and whathaveyous) over the course of some 70ish years, that seems a tad more impressive, does it not? It does not, you say? Well then, sod off, my friend, sod off!

Wodehouse's oeuvre is extensive to say the least, and his style of writing progressed from decade to decade in the early going. To take a general view, he started with light-comedy romances and gradually moved into comedy-heavy romances, until finally settling with full-on comedies with romance touched upon as a plot device. It was a progression that made sense. In the 1910s-20s, when his career took off (he started with off-time writing earlier while working as a banker) ladies loved the dime-store romance novels. Eventually that wore off as the saccharine-sweet drippy-lovers stuff ran its course. Being witty and not especially deep and brooding, comedy was his only recourse.

The transition period is an interesting one for Wodehousophiles, and that's where Meet Mr. Mulliner falls in. This 1927 collection of short stories, based around tales told at a local pub about a family of young men named Mulliner, is fun and light-hearted as almost all of Wodehouse's work, but you can see him shedding some of the sappy stuff in favor of the funny. This is a relief. Even if you're a romance fan, the old "Jane...", "James...", "Jane!", "James!" replete with longing looks routine is so outdated as to be unintentionally hilarious...for a moment, then the reading of it gets tedious right quick. I can take a bit of the lovey dovey, but I'd rather be slapping my knees. Meet Mr. Mulliner drops right in between there. Maybe I never slapped a knee, but the corners of my mouth raised up some now and again, while my brow lightened.

Is it worth a read? Only if you're already a Wodehouse fan. I wouldn't recommend this otherwise. Having said that, if you are a Wodehouse fan and you've exhausted all of the Jeeves and Blandings stuff, get on this Mulliner thing!

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