Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Save the Books: Willie and Joe Have Lessons To Teach Us

I grew up with Willie and Joe.  Who?  Willie and Joe, the immortal philosophers who wryly chronicled World War II from the perspective of a dogface infantryman.  Created by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin, they provided Americans a decidedly un-rosy lens through which they could view the war.  From the beaches of Italy through the liberation of Europe, Willie and Joe watched each other's backs, tweaked the officers, and tried to make sense of the senseless.

One of my favorites, from Up Front, portrays Willie and Joe pinned down in a firefight with one of them declaring that he could not get any closer to the ground because "me buttons is in the way!"

Mauldin followed his dogfaces home in Back Home, where they faced a recession, unemployment, a housing crunch, and Jim Crow laws.  He was especially hard on the Veterans Administration.  One memorable cartoon shows a young veteran, in pajamas and wheelchair.  Spanish moss-laden trees surround him and his wheelchair sits in several inches of water.  He himself recognizes the irony when he says, "I remember how much my Daddy laughed when he sold the VA this swamp."  Willie and Joe might have become civilians, but Mauldin's pen waged a campaign to ensure that returning veterans would receive the care they deserved.

Mauldin was not one to suffer fools, or injustices, silently and his books reflect that.

Since I already own both Up Front and Back Home, you know how thrilled I was to find a copy of Bill Mauldin's Army in the library discard bin.  Of course, I snatched it up and brought it home for my personal collection.

While I was savoring my find, I was saddened to know that such a jewel was leaving public access.  Too many books are being discarded and many important voices are being forgotten.  We are not burning books; we are discarding them.  And we are poorer for it.

So, help me save the books; time is running out.

What are you reading?


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Save the Books!

Save the Books!
Libraries across the country are clearing the shelves and emptying the stacks of low-demand books.  It makes sense; why waste expensive "real-estate" on books very few people read?  Why not fill the shelves with high-demand titles?

But there's a problem with that rationale.  It presumes that high-demand is equal to high-quality.  

It is not.

Let's face it:  very little of popular fiction deserves to be called literature.  By its very nature, popular fiction (and non-fiction, for that matter), is disposable.  I say this with all due respect to authors of popular fiction; I'm desperately working on a novel of my own.  But I'm under no illusion that it is great literature.  

So, the libraries are clearing the shelves of low-demand titles, especially non-fiction.  It's a shame, really.  Wonderful books are being discarded to make room for popular titles many of which will be discarded within 5 years (or much less).  With the proliferation of e-readers, many of those titles are not even being read on paper.  Even I have stopped purchasing my own leisure fiction on paper; I read it on my phone or my computer.  Still, many wonderful old titles are being pitched.

Admittedly, much of the subject matter is arcane:  maps of medieval Europe published in the 1920s, anyone?  But these are history.  They provide a snapshot of culture at the time of their printing.  Many are worth saving.  So, I'm starting a campaign to Save the Books!  It is up to us, the readers, to preserve these treasures.

To whet your appetite, here is one I've saved recently:

The granddaddy of them all . . .

Southern Harmony and Musical Companion by William Walker

Much of modern Protestant hymnody is based on the original frontier songbook from the 1850s.  This modern reprint, from University of Kentucky Press, is a treasure which explains the history of the particular text and its usage among the singing Christians on the frontier.  Many of the songs will be familiar, and also are the basis for the Big Singing in Benton, KY.  This book documents the warp on which the weft of modern hymnody is woven.

So, for the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my treasures in the hope that you, too, will join the campaign to Save the Books!