The Soldiers’ Pocket Books That Legitimized Paperbacks

Here is something else that began during WWII that we now take for granted.

Nicholas C. Rossis

Even though pamphlets and softcover books have been available in Europe since the 16th century, US readers looked down on them until well into the 20th century. As a recent Atlas Obscura post by Cara Giaimo explains, without a mass-market distribution model in place, it was difficult to make money selling inexpensive books.

Although certain brands succeeded by partnering with department stores, individual booksellers preferred to stock their shops with sturdier, better-looking hardbacks, for which they could charge higher prices. Even those who were trying to change the public’s mind bought into this prejudice: one paperback series, Modern Age Books, disguised its offerings as hardcovers, adding dust jackets and protective cardboard sleeves. They, too, couldn’t hack it in the market, and the company folded in the 1940s.

Wartime Reading

Armed Services Editions | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Soldiers in Virginia wrangle with hardcover books donated through the VBC. Image via Atlas Obscura.

Then, war came. In September of…

View original post 1,156 more words

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 14, 2017, in Home Front, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 83 Comments.

  1. This was news to me. Interesting the way difficult changes occur out of necessity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Never knew this. I read a ton of paperbacks as a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just as we now learn how much came out of the space program that we use every day – so many things came out of WWII that we just don’t relate to a world war, eh?!! Good to see you, Mitch!

      Like

  3. My father would have gravitated to any SciFi type books available at that time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great bit of history. Those paperbacks mean so much to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting side-light on something we take for granted these days.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. As a bibliophile, I really enjoyed this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Fascinating to read about the development of the paper back thanks to the armed services. I imagine ASE books would be sort after by collectors these days.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t know whether you read Charly Priest https://charlypriest.wordpress.com/. He’s a young vet who now writes poetry — sometimes raw, often funny. Among other things, Charly’s work reflects the difficulty soldiers can face in readjusting to civilian life. There is, also, a great video by Sebastian Junger on YouTube called “Why Veterans Miss War” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGZMSmcuiXM. I found it really profound.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I smiled here, G. A few weeks ago at the height of the fires in our area, the firefighters wanted some books to read in their off time. Peggy, who is President of the local Friends of the Library, put together several boxes of free paper backs. They were sincerely appreciated, like the soldiers did, I expect. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  10. How strange; I’d have thought that “paperbacks” would have been something the early Americans would have grabbed onto quickly. We foreigners expect them to be at the forefront of anything “new”, and this wasn’t even new. 16th century ? Wow!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. What a fascinating story. Hadn’t come across that before. My book was published in both trade paperback and mass paperback format, the second being the same content but smaller print so that the overall size is smaller. I guess it has its roots in this system.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Absolutely amazing! Great article, I had no idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Many thanks for sharing, GP! I’m thrilled to read all the comments here 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I read the original as well, but popped over here to see if you had added anything additional and was rewarded to find the Lumbeck comment from Klausbernd. Thanks to BOTH of you for the additional info.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

  15. “Cliff Notes” legitimized paperbacks for me. Used them all though K-12 for books that I tried to read but found too boring, things like “Moby Dick,” “To Kill A Mockingbird, “Catch-22”. After reading them decades later, I actually believe that they should be college level reading material instead of middle school and high school.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perhaps when they required us to read such books, they were trying to show they weren’t just novels with a plot – they had hidden meaning for so much more. A way to teach us to ‘read between the lines.’

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Interesting article, and what a great thing to provide for all of those serving far from home. Interesting title choices too, (though I’m pretty sure it was Bill Mauldin who wrote about being so bored they read the labels off their ration boxes just for something to read, so even the knitting book MAY have gone over better than expected…)

    Liked by 2 people

    • You may be surprised just how many found the sewing books to come in handy when they needed to repair their uniforms and such. Macrame is great for sailors and boy scouts – they already know all the knots to use! Often used for physical therapy.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Very interesting content! !
    Reading books is like experiencing a different world.
    Soldiers and sick ppl etc.. need to escape from reality and keep their mind.

    Now..,Books of piling up is staring at me…..(T▽T)

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Super recount of the birth of the paperback, GP Thanks to Nicholas Rossis as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. My father remarked about reading, “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” while in the hospital.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Wow! What great and interesting history! I did not know about this!
    Thanks, GP!
    Whenever we can get books into people’s hands (where ever they find themselves), that’s a good thing!
    HUGS and Happy whee-kend, too! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  21. My how things change. I’m finding more to like with digital–note-taking, small size, not always price. Thanks for this perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. so interesting , i never knew this –

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Dear GP Cox
    thanks for reblogging this interesting article.
    One of the breakthroughs for pocket books was the technique of lumbecking, a relatively cheap way of binding a book and which is still used for pocket books. This techniqe was invented by a German company with the name of Lumbeck which, by the way, exists still in Hattingen (a town on the southern border of the Ruhr-district). Lumbeck was asked by fascists to produce cheap books and booklets for their propaganda and so this company invented this kind of binding. After WW II quite a lot of German patents were annihilated (as a kind of reparation) and so lumbecking became a binding used for pocket books worldwide. As binding is an imporant factor for the price producing a book this relatively cheap new way of binding opened the market for pocket books as we know them nowadays. The disadvantage is that after reading such a bound book several times most of the pages are getting loose.
    A mass market for pocket books didn’t start before after WW II which has to do with big distributors started to rule the book business.
    All the best or dear friend ad ave a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley

    Liked by 8 people

  24. thanks to war
    we can carry
    smaller books 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  25. This was an enjoyable read. As you know, I first saw this on the original blog.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Thank you for sharing the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: The Soldiers’ Pocket Books That Legitimized Paperbacks — Pacific Paratrooper – Michael D. Turashoff

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