Batch Reviews: Non-fiction Edition

I’m attempting to clear out my non-review guilt by batching some of them together. I don’t even have a good excuse for this. I’ve just been a lazy blogger.

Today we have non-fiction on deck!

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. I wanted this book for Christmas last year. And then for my birthday. But it wasn’t until this past Christmas that a copy finally found it’s way to me.

American GIs serving in WWII were sent to war with BOOKS. Special service editions of thousands of books, contemporary and classics, were published and sent overseas where they made an incredible difference in the morale of the men serving. It also turned some books into classics we still love today: The Great Gatsby and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were both sent out as Armed Service Editions (ASEs).

Not only does this book provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the soldiers serving, the theatres of war and the political machines at home trying to win, it illustrates a love of books that any reader can appreciate. These books sometimes meant that young men who didn’t think that they could read, that they enjoyed reading, ended up taking advantage of the GI Bill and getting degrees when they returned home.

Books were being burned in Germany, hundreds of thousands of them thrown on the fire because they were written by undesirables (homosexuals, artists, Jews etc) but because of these ASEs, more books were produced than were destroyed during the war.

“On one side, Mein Kampf spread Nazi ideology and propaganda, hatred and devastation. On the other, books spread ideas in the face of their very destruction, stimulated thought about the terms of a lasting peace and built understanding. As Hitler waged total war, America fought back not just with men and bullets, but with books. Despite the many advances in modern warfare – from airplanes to the atomic bomb – books proved to be one of the most formidable weapons of them all.”

People, especially Chelsey, have been telling me to read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed for a good long while. And I hesitated for no good reason (except the piles and piles and piles of other books I have yet to read).

Frustrated by my lacklustre fiction reading, I was driven to look for non-fiction and Tiny Beautiful Things was at the top of my list.

I tucked into this one when I was waiting for a friend, managing only to read the introduction by Steve Almond. Those few pages showed me that I had made a mistake: I never should have borrowed this one from the library.

Where to even begin with this? I see now why people have trouble putting into words the reading experience that comes out of this book. It is at once uplifting and encouraging and hopeful and devastating and harsh and terrifying. The people who write to Sugar are often in the middle of intense turmoil and reach out to someone they hope will help them heal their hearts, encourage them into taking a leap of faith or enable them to forgive and move on.

Strayed handles all of their hearts with care and empathy. Even the ones that have made terrible decisions and caused pain to others. Whether her letter writers are lonely, have cheated, wondering about reaching out to family who turned their backs on them, have suffered sexual or physical abuse, are tortured artists or looking to make a big life change, she shows them that all is not lost, that there is time to make amends, that it’s still possible to change the outcome.

This book is balm for your soul. In a world of anger and distrust and awful, scary things, Tiny Beautiful Things is an island of love and empathy and compassion. It was exactly what I needed.

When I return it to the library, I hope it finds it’s way into someone else’s heart.

16 thoughts on “Batch Reviews: Non-fiction Edition

  1. Darn it I knew I should buy Tiny Beautiful Things. Maybe I’ll cancel my library hold and go to the used bookstore. Also- Books to War sounds fascinating! What a cool history.

  2. You describe Tiny Beautiful Things so well. I have been reading it slowly for a while now. A letter here and there before going to sleep at night. You’ll need to get yourself a copy. 🙂
    Also, When Books Went To War made it onto my shortlist of books to buy with my Xmas gift card – so now I own it. Can’t wait to read it! (I wonder when it will happen – ha!)

  3. Tiny Beautiful Things does sound good – I understand your hesitation as it gives off a bit of a “self help” vibe that a lot of readers get turned off by. But on your recommendation, I must try it. I’m always happy for an uplifting book.
    But, When Books Went to War is a must have for me. I’d never heard of this book – it’s going on my library hold list as I write this (I can multitask with the best of them!) -Tania

    • I think that’s probably part of what put me off reading it in the first place. I’m sure one might recognize bits of themselves in the letter writers but I don’t think it’s a self help book in the traditional sense.
      When Books Went to War is definitely a must-read for any book lover. It’s such an interesting angle on a love of reading.

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