For some book reviews I dilly-dally on choosing a book, either because nothing as jumped out as absolutely wonderful or because there are too many options to pick from. But as soon as I saw “When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II” I knew this would be my review book.

Molly Guptill Manning’s “When Books Went to War” covers reading and censorship during World War II and the impact of both on the war. On May 10, 1933, over eighty thousand people watched or participated in a massive book burning in Berlin that started a conflagration of flames that crossed Germany. Crowds cheered as “un-German” books were burned in 94 different book burnings. “Un-German” books included all works by Jewish authors, and a multitude of other authors including Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Helen Keller, Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells.

People across Europe and America were outraged at the destruction of books and censorship of ideas. Demonstrations were held in America, while H.G. Wells established the Library of Burned Books in Paris in 1934. The library held copies of all books banned or burned by the Nazis, and also held in safekeeping books and writings donated by anyone who thought their collections were at risk. In an ironic twist, when the Nazis took Paris, they took the Library of Burned Books into safekeeping, carefully preserving the items in the collection.

By 1938, over 18 categories of books had been banned by the Nazis, with 175 titles and 565 authors on the list. Hitler was fighting his war on the battlefields and in the libraries. The ALA, or American Library Association, felt that the best weapon against Hitler was a book itself. By encouraging Americans to read, his book burnings and censorship would stand in sharp contract and his propaganda would be diluted.

Books had been found in American wars ever since the Civil War. In 1921, the Army Library Service was created by the War Department to be responsible for 228 libraries at Army Posts at that time. But the service quickly had its funding cut, fell into neglect, and state libraries were allowed to take books for their collections. By the time WWII came around, there were no desirable titles left and new camps had no books or libraries at all. With the draft enacted, soldiers were pulled from their civilian lives, stationed far from home, and many times stationed places with very little means of entertainment. Reading was their only outlet.

To help with the drastic need of reading material for soldiers, the ALA started the National Book Defense Campaign. The public was encouraged to donate books to be sent to Army Camps in America and to soldiers overseas. The response was overwhelming, but the logistics in sorting the books, filling the need for wanted reading material and shipping heavy hardbacks made the job almost impossible. It was quickly realized that a soldier carrying a heavy pack of equipment would have difficulty carrying hardback books around, conveniently sized, featherweight volumes were needed instead.

When the Council on Books In Wartime was formed in 1942, they wanted to see how books could help the war effort. They took as their motto “Books are weapons in the war of ideas”. Before the 1940s and paper rationing, paperbacks were almost unheard of. Most bookstores wouldn’t stock them at all. Pocket Books was the first American publishing company to mass produce paperbacks, selling them five-and-dime chains and drug stores. As of 1943, no book existed that met the specific needs of the soldier on the frontline, it would have to be invented. Thus, the “Armed Services Edition” or ASE, was born.

The ASE was small, durable, and of topics that would educate and entertain soldiers. By the end, over 1300 different editions were printed. History, popular fiction, westerns, poetry, educational texts, plays, and a variety of subjects were selected. Every new printing had soldiers eagerly devouring books, trading them, and searching for titles. These little books fit perfectly into a pocket, so they were found where ever the Army and Navy were.

As soldiers made their way across Europe, they carried ASEs that were titles that had been banned by the Nazis. After years of oppression and censorship by the Nazis, there was basically no longer an independent publishing industry in Europe. To help with this, Overseas Editions, OEs, were printed to replace books that had been banned and destroyed in occupied Europe. The ASE model was so popular, and so cost efficient in regards to paper use, that it was used by the British publishing industry to help rebuild after the war.

Because the ASEs, a multitude of soldiers returned home with a love of reading that they did not have when they first went off to war. They brought that new appreciation for reading with them to college as many of them used the benefits of the new GI Bill. Many other veterans carried home their ASEs that helped them survive a trying and difficult war.

The history of the ASE was fascinating and I barely brushed the surface of the fight against censorship and how the love of reading impacted WWII. I finished this book with a list of “new” old titles to read, and an appreciation of how important books have been and still are. Come by the library and pick up “When Books Went to War” to enjoy this read yourself.when

Clarinbaseball-bookda Iowa, population 5,562, sits just north of the Missouri state line. With a rich history this small town was home to the “Mother” of 4H Jessie Fields, bandleader Glenn Miller, very briefly Johnny Carson, and Merl Eberly.

Unless you are a huge fan of collegiate summer league baseball, you are no doubt thinking ‘Merl who?’ Michael Tackett’s The Baseball Whisperer: a Small-Town Coach Who Shaped Big League Dreams more than answers that question.

Usually it would be hard to recommend a book that starts with a funeral and ends with a death. But the inspiring story of Merl, his family, and community that Tackett relates is a rewarding read, especially so if you’re a baseball fan.

Merl believed in second chances.  He was given one as a high school dropout who spent his time hanging out with his friends and drinking. High school football/baseball coach John Tedore issued him a challenge, “Come out or get out.”

Merl took the challenge. He went back to school and joined the team. He still struggled with other aspects of his life but on the athletic field he was a natural. Through Coach Tedore and being part of a team Merl learned about discipline and teamwork.

He spent his life passing on lessons learned. During an interview he said “However corny it might sound, I think we’re all supposed to do something while we are here on this Earth. I guess the good Lord took me out of the garbage can and said, “Go play sports, but don’t forget the message that it teaches you.’ If you get the opportunity, pass it on.” Merl did that for over 40 years through the Clarinda A’s.

Merl loved baseball and started playing at a time when it was more about the game than the money. He tuned a town team into a premier collegiate summer team. He put together a plan, rallied his community and created a program that rivaled the best in the country.

The community of Clarinda was essential to the plan. Local businessmen contributed money, families housed and cared for the players. Each player that came to play for the Clarinda A’s was given a job for the summer.

One of those players was Osborne Earl Smith who arrived in the summer of 1975. Smith came from the Watts section of Los Angeles via Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo to this small white community set in the middle of cornfields. His summer job was with a construction company where he was their first African American employee.

This seeming mismatch resulted in a close enduring friendship between Ozzie, Merl, and the town. Ozzie embraced Clarinda and Clarinda embraced him. The fans loved his signature backflip when he took the field each night. He came to the A’s with intelligence, defensive ability and the willingness to work. He left a better hitter who could steal bases and play phenomenal defense. He also left with a different view of the world.

Ozzie was not the only major leaguer to play in Clarinda.  There were many including Chuck Knoblauch, Von Hayes, Bud Black, Jose Alverez, Cal Eldred, Andy Benes, and Jamey Carroll. Most of the talented players that came to Clarinda never made it to or beyond the minor leagues. But they all left Clarinda a better ball player and a better person because Merl passed on lessons learned. As he said “It’s not about can we make them a better baseball player. It’s about can we make them a better person.”

Much of Merl’s story is told through the players who played for him. Their remembrances of the time they spent living and playing in Clarinda reveal the impact that summer had on their life.

“The Baseball Whisperer” is a tribute to Merl, to Clarinda, and to baseball. It’s a story I didn’t know and now won’t soon forget.

index-aspxEver find yourself in a situation where you have to talk to strangers? Not good at small talk? Want to feel more up to snuff watching the pundits on the news? Just like stuffing your head with bits and pieces of information that might be useful or interesting? Have I got a book for you! The Intelligent Conversationalist: 31 Cheat Sheets that will Show You How to Talk to Anyone About Anything, Anytime by Imogen Lloyd Webber has it all covered. Nearly  400 pages chock a block with info from language to math to religion to politics, history and more. Need a gloss on major religions of the world? Got it. Refresher on American history and presidents? Right there. Who were the Axis and Allied powers in World War II? Oh, yeah, them. And what’s up with the Electoral College, anyway?

Each cheat sheet begins with either a few paragraphs or pages on the subject or a handy grid with terms and explications of the terms and ends with how to argue the point covered, a “crisp fact” (a neat bit of trivia on the subject) and a “pivot” (a handy question or statement to move things away from the current discussion). Some cheat sheets have Red Flags to watch out for, like things that are just either way too controversial or way too well known. Nothing like a nice batch of eye rolls from your audience when you spout off with something that “everybody knows.”  There’s a nice little section on British slang (the author’s a Brit, which helps explain Chapter 15, which consists entirely of a huge grid of the kings and queens of England since 1066, covering 27 pages. Here’s an entry on Edward II to show the sort of info (and writing style) you’ll find: “Qualifications—Son of Edward I. He was created the first Prince of Wales in 1301. Quirks—Edward II was deposed by his wife Isabella (Phillip IV of France’s daughter) and her amour Roger Mortimer. Edward II gave up his crown to Edward III. Edward II was later murdered at Berkeley Castle. Notable Feats/Fiascos—Into favorites, most famously Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser. Edward II was inept. Cue the barons getting very irritated. He also was defeated by Scot Robert the Bruce in 1314 at Bannockburn, which did nothing for his popularity.”

For readers more interested in modern history, there’s a cheat sheet on Middle Eastern history, twenty-odd pages of info about the most unsettled part of the globe and how it got that way. The Pivot question on this section, by the way, is “Qatar won the bid to be the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup in 2020. Are you a soccer fan?” How’s that for a change of subject?

Feeling a little uninformed about culture? Have a gander at cheat sheets 27 (authors you need to know about), 28 (artists), and 29 (composers) while Chapter 30 gets you a smattering of theater information.

The writing is all most definitely in the snarky British humor vein, and the politics are noticeably left-leaning. If you like that, it’s a big winner. If not, maybe you can overlook that and just enjoy buffing up for your next trivia contest or become a couch champion watching Jeopardy.

Maybe idarkt’s all the “Quantum Leap” I’ve been watching on Netflix. Maybe I just like weird sci-fi stories. Maybe I’m easily swayed by the dozens of positive reviews I saw on social media. But “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch is probably my favorite read of 2016 so far.

Jason Dessen is married to the love of his life, Daniela, and they have a wonderful teenage son, Charlie. Their home in Chicago is comfortable, though not terribly fancy. Jason teaches undergraduate physics classes at Lakemont College. He’s never won awards, never made any groundbreaking discoveries, but Jason Dessen is, overall, pretty happy.

One night, on the way home from congratulating a friend on winning a Pavia Prize (Crouch’s version of a Nobel Prize), Jason is kidnapped by a masked man who seems familiar somehow. This man knows everything about Jason, down to the passcode on his phone. The man forces Jason to an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, then injects himself and Jason with a mysterious drug. Confused and afraid, Jason passes out.

When Jason wakes, he is in a world that is not his own. The people around him are strangers, but they seem to know him. They tell Jason he’s been missing for 18 months; much longer than the few hours from the night before. Jason begins to realize the horrifying truth: he’s no longer in the universe he’s always known. He’s jumped – or been forced – into a parallel universe. And the man who pushed him there? None other than an alternate version of himself.

This Jason (whom I’ll call Jason2) is an award-winning scientist. He’s won the Pavia, done the rounds as a guest lecturer at places like Harvard and Princeton, and works at Velocity Laboratories, a jet propulsion laboratory. He never married Daniela, never fathered Charlie, never spent time teaching community college. But like so many, Jason2 is plagued by the question of “what if?”

So Jason2 builds a machine, a cube that can manipulate quantum mechanics and allow him to travel to parallel dimensions. Which leads him to Jason’s world, where all those “what ifs” have been answered. And having shoved Jason into his own world, Jason2 takes over Jason’s life.

Jason could stay and take over Jason2’s life, become the scientist he chose not to be. But more than anything, he wants to be at home with his wife and son and the life they’ve made together. With help from a Velocity Laboratories scientist, Jason escapes into the quantum cube and hopes he’ll be able to leap back home.

To avoid giving away too much, I’ll just say this: quantum world-hopping is messy business. More than two roads diverged in this metaphorical wood and the results are both heartbreaking and frightening. Since I’m not an expert in quantum physics, I can’t speak to how accurate the science is in “Dark Matter,” but I’m willing to play along and agree to the rules Crouch lays out. And it’s certainly a good read. “Dark Matter” is a fun way to explore what you – or some version of yourself – might do if you got the chance to live through the “what ifs” of life.

It’s been a long time coming. When I arrived at Joplin Public Library to become director in 2010, I had no idea this project was even started, let alone that it needed finished. When a board member asked me the status, I had to research to even figure out what they were asking about.

The project to which I refer is the “Bob Phillips Files” project. In Phillips’ own words, “Back in 1983, I was asked to prepare a feature story for television about a Joplin firm that repaired department store mannequins. I didn’t know it then, but from that beginning I went on to do over 460 TV features, which were called the Phillips Files. Done in the four state area, they aired between 1983 and 1997. Along with some talented photographers, we covered a lot of ground – traveling interstate highways and country lanes – up mountains and down hollers – to document the people places and things that make up this many-faceted area.”

In an October 2003 press conference then-Joplin Public Library Director Carolyn Trout announced the acquisition of Phillips’ archived tape files. Carolyn said, “Bob Phillips had a 3-decade career in television broadcasting in Joplin, and when he retired in 1998, Joplin audiences missed that very distinctive voice. Now, with the donation to the Library by KODE and Nexstar Broadcasting of the taped archive of Bob’s work, that voice will be familiar to generations to come.”

The taped segments were filmed on what was an industry standard for that time – ¾” broadcast tapes. However, as the years progressed, this technology became obsolete, the tapes began to disintegrate and machines able to play the tapes became scarcer.

Joplin Public Library began to digitize these programs to make them available to the public. However, equipment failure of the old machines stymied further progress.

Enter MSSU’s KGCS-TV. Their Director of Creative Services, Bill Hunt, is a former colleague of Phillips. Bill had the skill and the equipment to be able to complete converting the tapes to a digital format. Recognizing the importance of these vignettes in protecting this bit of Joplin history, he completed the conversion process.

Joplin Public Library has just received a complete set of the Phillips files on DVD, which are now available for public check-out. This set of 30 DVDs reflects interesting people, places and industries of the four-state area as reported by Phillips.

While this project was in process, I took the time to watch several episodes and thought, “Wow. I’d like to visit that place!”, “I never knew that!” or “How interesting!” But, many of the people and places he reported on are no longer around, their history and memory preserved in Phillips’ reporting.

There is something of interest to everyone in these DVDs: animals, cars, art, industry, antiques – the list goes on. There are also profiles of area businesses — some who are still in business, but others who have closed.

These are a slice of life in the four-states in the ’80s and ’90s. Check them out and remember some of our not-so-distant history. They’ll bring back people and places you’ve not thought of in years.

It seems like television and film have turned more and more to literature for inspiration. One of last season’s book spin-offs was MTV’s “The Chronicles of Shannara,” which was based off of “The Elfstones of Shannara” by Terry Brooks. After seeing the show and complaining to my family about the multitude of differences from the book, I had to re-read the books to remind myself of how much I always enjoyed them.

I’ve been a fan of Terry Brooks’ fantasy novels since the late 1980s when I discovered them in middle school. (Don’t do the math, let’s just go with me as a child prodigy and being incredibly young for middle school.) The series were eagerly devoured and I’ve read the books a few times over the years. While the show on MTV is very violent and sexual at times, the books were more innocent, appropriate for a wider audience.

The Shannara books are very similar to the “Lord of the Rings” books, with dwarves, elves, magic, and quests filling both. Terry Brooks was heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien and you can see it in the vivid descriptions and struggle of good against evil. There have been a multitude of entries in the Shannara world over the years, with prequels and sequels galore. Suggestions for reading order vary but I have to admit I’m old school and prefer to read the books in the order that the author wrote them. As such, I’ll always start off with “The Sword of Shannara,” which was written in 1977 but still stands as a solid fantasy read.

The last Druid, Allanon, comes to quiet Shady Vale looking for Shea Ohmsford, the last true heir of Shannara. Only Shea can wield the Sword of Shannara against the dark forces threatening their land. Shea must flee the Skull Bearers chasing him, find the sword and face the Warlock Lord to save not only himself but the world. The book is filled with adventure, magic, and creatures that leap off the page. The following books, “The Elfstones of Shannara” and “The Wishsong of Shannara” finish out the trilogy.

But unlike Tolkien, Terry Brooks has continued to write many more books. I’ve already worked my way through the original trilogy and I’m almost done with the next Shannara series in my latest read through. The Heritage of Shannara books are “The Scions of Shannara”, “The Druid of Shannara”, “The Elf Queen of Shannara”, and “The Talismans of Shannara,” all of which take place over a century after the first trilogy.

There are also several prequel series that fill in missing history along with other fantasy books by Terry Brooks. For fans of fantasy and/or “The Lord of the Rings,” the Shannara books are a great read that will keep you entertained for many pages. Hopefully the television show will continue to attract new readers to this outstanding author and his wonderful books.

Unlike my luckier friends and colleagues, I’ve had no opportunity to indulge in travel this summer. Consequently, I’ve been feeling pretty burned out lately, weary of the Missouri heat and humidity, and more than a little envious of people’s vacation photos and stories on Facebook. Then, last week I read my way through a handful of books by illustrator and writer Lucy Knisley and found myself transported.

French Milk

This charming graphic novel, peppered with actual photographs, details Knisley and her mother’s sojourn in Paris. Using their rented apartment as a home base, the duo indulge in leisurely sight-seeing, tasty French food and vintage flea-market shopping. Imagine six weeks of celebrating New Year’s Eve with fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, stopping to enjoy buskers as you stroll the streets of Paris, exploring the exquisite grounds of Versailles or taking in priceless works of art in the city’s many museums.

Food plays a starring role in this French adventure. Mother and daughter linger in cafes for meals of French onion soup, oysters and wine, or throw together simple yet tasty repasts of croissants, cheese and pickles. Knisley becomes obsessed with decadent hot chocolate and can’t seem to stop drinking the rich, creamy French milk – hence the book’s title. When their time in Paris comes to an end, she loads up on good mustard and condensed milk, both sold in tubes, and cans of foie gras to tote home. (As someone who hoards Kinder Bueno candy bars when she travels overseas, I get it.)

But “French Milk” is about much more than getting to know a foreign city. It’s about the relationship between mother and daughter, as well as the uncertainty Knisley faces as she nears the end of her college career and must officially enter adulthood.

An Age of License: A Travelogue

“Some trips are more than distance traveled in miles,” Knisley writes on the first page of “An Age of License.” “Sometimes travel can show us how our life is … or give us a glimpse of how it can be …”

Reeling from a break-up, Knisley fortuitously finds opportunities to travel – a comics convention in Norway; a side trip to Sweden to visit a new lover; a stopover in Berlin to congratulate newlywed friends; and a return to France to see her vacationing mother.

As she hopscotches across Europe, Knisley maintains a leisurely, spontaneous pace, truly exploring her surroundings, from local French wineries to relics from Cold War Berlin. “An Age of License” is a joyful experience as Knisley luxuriates in the freedom that travel, youth and her unattached status bring.

Curious about the title? In France, the author encounters an American who claims that “the French have a saying for the time when people are young and experimenting with their lives and careers. They call it: l’age license. As in: License to experience, mess up, license to fail, license to do … whatever, before you’re settled.”

Displacement: A Travelogue

Although “Displacement” is a travelogue like “An Age of License,” it’s a much more poignant one. The book depicts a trip that Knisley takes with her aging grandparents, when she accompanies them on a Caribbean cruise as their caregiver. The journey becomes an exercise in patience and compassion, as well as in coming to terms with her elders’ mortality.

The cruise is no vacation for Knisley, as she deals with everything from her grandmother’s dementia to her grandfather’s incontinence, and all the resulting complications. She dispenses medications, seeks out lost items, and spends nights laundering her grandfather’s pants. There is little time for shore excursions or walks on the beach.

Interspersed with the daily travel diary are excerpts from a memoir that Knisley’s grandfather, a World War II veteran, wrote about his war-time experiences. Every night she reads further, seeing her now-frail grandfather in a new light. The contrast between his older and younger self is bittersweet.

On a side note, the sometimes unpleasant realities of cruise vacation that Knisley highlights are spot-on: goofy entertainment, rude passengers, the constant cleaning and sanitizing to avoid the spread of norovirus, a gastro-intestinal illness. As a veteran passenger, I can admit that, while fun, cruises do have elements of the absurd.

So if you haven’t been able to travel this summer, don’t despair. Journeys – of a sort – await you at the Joplin Public Library.