Monday, May 15, 2017

A book marked the shortest, straightest, and most invigorating lifeline to the real world

From Before Their Time by Robert Kotlowitz. Page 100.

His Division has been in France some weeks already, waiting for other divisions to arrive and the whole Army form up. They have gotten their orders and are breaking camp, getting ready for the march to the front.
There was a brisk trade in books before we left. Most of the readers in the battalion knew each other by now, and we ran along the adjoining tent-lines calling out titles, as though we were street peddlers. I got Eric Ambler's Journey Into Fear (a title in which I read no ironies) for Michael Innes's Hamlet, Revenge! - the heavy scent of Levantine musk for the clear taste of high tea, a fair exchange in my view. Bern brought away Tortilla Flat, heavily dog-eared, and Fedderman traded Will James's Cowboy for The Late George Apley, feeling that it was time "to finally take a sounding," in his words, of John P. Marquand, whom he had never read. Even Brewster, I discovered, was at it; that was good news about Brewster, I thought. This business of swapping books was very satisfying. We felt that we got true value and more. I had also been offered A.J. Cronin's The Citadel, Howard Spring's My Son, My Son, and James Hilton's Lost Horizon, and rejected all three - for snob reasons, probably, because they were too popular. Fedderman, I'm sorry to say, shared that attitude.

But none of us would be without something to read. We were stocked for the future, books packed into each fatigue pocket. A book marked the shortest, straightest, and most invigorating lifeline to the real world - the world outside that would continue on its way, in its own orbit, no matter what might happen to us. That's what I believed. That's what most of the readers in the Yankee Division believed.

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