Several publishers are collaborating with a well-known proselytizer of literature to revive a World War II program that shipped books to soldiers. Dover, Hyperion and Simon & Schuster's Washington Square imprint will participate in Armed Services Editions, an initiative that will send thousands of books to servicemen and -women around the world. The books are being reformatted as "cargo-sized" editions—portable in size and laid out horizontally.
Among the titles to be sent are Medal of Honor (Hyperion), Shakespeare's Henry V (Dover), The Art of War (Dover) and War Letters (Washington Square). The program is being coordinated with the Pentagon.
During WWII, the ASE program gave away more than 100 million copies of classics and popular literature. Unlike the original program, this one is funded not by the government but by an anonymous corporate donor, who contributed $50,000 for production and shipping. Publishers are granting reprint rights at no charge and are overseeing the reformatting efforts.
The organizer of the new ASE is Andrew Carroll, who has also led clever marketing efforts to popularize poetry and is the editor of War Letters. The idea, which he said was conceived well before 9/11, is to give moral support to soldiers as well as to increase reading, especially in a time when many in the industry worry about a stagnant number of readers. "The [original] ASE program inspired an entire generation of servicemen and women to become readers," he said, adding that these are "very intelligent people who are in the most distant corners of the globe feeling a little forgotten."
Carroll hopes the program will take flight with other publishers and eventually include books on nonmilitary subjects (he tossed off names as varied as John Grisham and Christopher Buckley), though he said he also wants to be careful that it doesn't run amok: "I want books to be carefully selected. I don't want publishers just to dump their extra stock."