In past lives I have had various occupations, most notably a librarian and also an English teacher. It's already pretty evident how much I like books. But my undergraduate degree in English actually shared double-major billing with history. It stands to reason then that I enjoy historical literature and learning about history. World War II is of particular interest to me. This summer I had occasion to experience a special exhibit encompassing both World War II history and literature.
Muskegon, Michigan, is rich with special exhibits this year. After my sister Sue and I took in the Edward Curtis display (see previous post), we went on to visit the nearby USS Silversides Submarine Museum where visitors are afforded the opportunity to actually descend into the bowels of a real WWII submarine. What an experience.
“But what does this have to do with literature?” you may be wondering. Well, this summer the museum is hosting a special exhibit entitled, “When Books Went to War—The Power of Literature and the Press in Wartime.” What a historical learning adventure it was.
Did you know that during the war the American Library Association carried on a crusade to collect donated books for American enlisted men? Neither did I. The Victory Book campaign was a very successful operation that ran book drives collecting donations from civilians all over the country. On display are several posters from that campaign aimed at encouraging donations.
The delivery of these volumes was often problematic, however. The variety of sizes and shapes made it difficult to pack them in an organized and streamlined manner. This sometimes led to books being abandoned because they could not be efficiently transported overseas to the servicemen eager to get them.
Enter the Armed Services Editions. A graphic artist suggested a method for printing whereby two books' pages were printed at a time on very thin paper and then cut in half. Printers took up the call and the Armed Services Editions began, ultimately producing millions of volumes in a uniform size that was easily distributable and easy for a GI to carry. Some of these original volumes are part of this special exhibit.
Not only did the special book editions help morale among the servicemen, but at a time when the Nazis were burning books, the program also provided a perfect counter to that atrocious practice. A depiction of Nazi book burning is part of the exhibit as well as an original copy of Hitler's book, Mein Kampf.
Propaganda, a big part of the war, is also an element of the Books and War display. Even comic books got in on the action, and several comics from that era are part of the exhibit. Superman and Batman fighting the likes of Hitler and Mussolini was something I never expected to see.
This interesting exhibit runs through September 4 and is easy to do in a day in conjunction with the Curtis display. Two good reasons to visit Muskegon this summer.