About the Appearance of Books in Wartime (and of me, in 1988)


The private library of the 45th Infantry Museum is where I’ll be spending my volunteer time from now on. There are around 8,000 titles that include everything from Bill Mauldin’s cartoon collection to the documented fishing conditions of Scandinavian waters during wartime.  The museum’s card catalog is not up-to-date (not to be confused with “outdated” in this case), so I will be checking all the books to be sure they each have their respective filing cards. I only spend about 4 to 6 hours a week there, and I’ve estimated I’ll be finished by the end of the summer.

While thumbing through the first shelf of books, I came across this notice about the War Production Board’s ruling on publishing materials. I had never before heard of this conservative measure. Most of my knowledge of wartime policies comes from reading specific kinds of war narratives or from watching Bomb Girls on Netflix.

It turns out that the War Production Board’s policy on conserving certain materials helped to create the mass-market paperback book. Because the books were lighter, held together with glue (not staples), and used less ink, they were understandably cheaper. And more profitable. Book clubs, which were a regular part of a housewife’s social activities, grew to be even more popular. During the war years, authors worked their magic to have a nationally known book club select their book and distribute it to paying members as the Book-of-the-Month.

Paperback books have been around since the late 19th century, marketed around the United Kingdom to train riders. Their popularity soared, however, when American readers became the recipients of paperback books’ advertising campaigns.

What I find really interesting is how 1940s conservation and consumption applies to today’s world. E-books are not so alien to us anymore, and they allow us to carry thousands of less expensive and more portable versions of a book – any book. I know I’m not the last holdout, but I am a genuine fan of actual pages. I like the feeling I get when I physically turn a page. That’s not to say I’m against e-readers. I do own one. It’s just that I live in 1985 and I can’t seem to love that which I don’t understand: modern technology.

My favorite purses are large enough to carry what I consider necessities: my wallet, cell phone, lotion, makeup, hand gel, lip balm, notepads, pens, hairbrush, camera, and a book (preferably a paperback, for obvious reasons). I might show up somewhere looking like I’m ready to move house, but I’m never bored. When I stand in line at the bank, I read my book. When I wait in the doctor’s office, I read my book. When I’m stuck in traffic, I read my book. And because I’m the slowest eater in the world, my family often abandons me at the dinner table where I finish my meal and read my book. I think it’s obvious that I am a voracious reader, so I can appreciate having access to less expensive and more portable versions of any book.

I am indubitably devoted to the library; I can understand libraries, which is why I’ve taken on the overwhelming task of updating the museum’s card catalog. The fourth-grade version of me is finally living out her dream.


This is actually the seventh-grade version of me: fluffy permed hair, a stonewashed-denim and lace skirt with suspenders, a very short date wearing an ill-fitting jacket. Even back then I looked like I belonged in a library, though I should have done a lot more research in fashion.

2 thoughts on “About the Appearance of Books in Wartime (and of me, in 1988)

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