What the troops want to read

A couple of months ago I found new evidence to answer a family mystery in the EADT.

While looking up that obituary, as so often happens, I came across something else that caught my eye: a war time mobile library. The article appeared in the Diss Express on Friday, 11 September, 1942:

Diary of a Woman with a Mobile Library [contributed]

Armed with a little experience gained while helping with a Red Cross Library at a military hospital, Mrs Milford Tweedy decided to run an unofficial mobile library for the benefit of troops in isolated districts of the country where she lives – an area which has a similarity to the Eastern Region.

Over 5000 books have been issued and she has been able to observe the varied tastes of the men and relative popularity of books in different categories. Detective and “Wild West” books are the most in demand and readers are extremely faithful to their chosen authors.

Oliver Strange’s “Sudden” books are read with avidity in one camp, yet scorned in another. The men themselves cannot express reasons for prejudices of this kind and often have heated arguments over the respective qualities of the heroes. The most champions are for the “Saint” books by Leslie Charteris followed by Edgar Wallace and “Sapper” books.

Books which have been filmed are particularly popular, also racing stories and love stories of the straightforward “happy ending” type. The specific demands of more serious readers are less easy to meet.

In the non-fiction class “Lawrence and the Arabs”, “Mein Kampf,” books on the Navy, RAF, lighter travel books, – and topical biographies of well-known people are the most widely read.

Since P G Wodehouse began to broadcast for the Nazis, the troops refuse to read his books which were much in demand at one time. Now they turn to Joan Butler, Damon Runyon and Thorne Smith.”

In 2016, crime fiction still issues best in Norfolk libraries, and there are many western fans too. Just as in 1942, different places have different favourites and it’s part of the librarian’s role to stock the right books in the right place – and keep them circulating.

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