A last-minute addition to the University Press of New England list has become the fastest-selling book in the Hanover, N.H., university press consortium’s 42-year history and its first book to hit Amazon’s top 10. World War II Remembered isn’t even published by one of its regular distribution clients. Instead, UPNE took on the self-published book five days before Christmas to help its neighbors at the Kendal at Hanover retirement community. They had already sold through their thousand-copy first printing when they learned that Brian Williams was interested in airing a segment on NBC.
UPNE began with a conservative approach and printed 500 copies, but following the February 6 NBC Nightly News story on the book, UPNE went back to press for another 5,000 copies, followed by a 3,000-copy printing. Ever since UPNE’s meeting with Kendal it’s been “high excitement at the press,” said UPNE publicist Barbara Briggs. The phone has been ringing, including calls from two audio publishers who are vying for rights. Still, as Briggs pointed out, “the real story is about these retirees who put this book together themselves.”
Two years in the making, World War II Remembered came about, said Mary Jenkins, age 90, because she and six other resident editors wanted to gather the war-time experiences of the people who live in the community before it was too late. “I don’t know whether we’re the greatest generation,” she said. “We’re certainly a disappearing generation.” The book was inspired, she added, by a similar one created by the Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne, Vt., in 2008.
Not everyone wanted to talk about the war, and some people died during the process. Altogether the editors selected 56 essays and transcripts of oral recollections from among the 400 people who live in the community. Surprisingly for a relatively small New England community, the pieces provide a remarkably diverse view of the period between 1941 and 1945. Recollections range from those of a young boy in Norway, who watched his father, a member of the Resistance, bury guns in the front yard, to one man’s experiences as one of the few conscientious objectors to the war. Jenkins’s own essay discusses what it was like to be a young bride. “There was a special feeling that has never existed since,” said Jenkins.
The editors divided the essays and recollections into sections based on where the contributors lived out the war: the European, Pacific and Far East theater, stateside, wartime in Europe and South America, and the home front. As memoir-writing teacher Joe Medlicott, who served as a paratrooper during WWII with the 82nd Airborne Division, notedin his introduction, “What stands out so clearly in this ‘remembrances of things past’ is the unmistakable ring of authenticity in every account. Even after 70 years, every recollection remains vivid.”
The contributors to the book continue to do readings in the Dartmouth area, and all the proceeds are going to a fund at Kendal that helps pay the monthly fees of residents who have financial problems. “We really feel very good about the book,” said Jenkins. “We hope it will inspire other people."