Kenneth Roberts’ Books: ‘Lively Lady’ Armed Services Edition (Update)

***I’ve updated this post in light of a comment left by a Roberts fan in Facebook. I’m keeping the original content and adding the update at the end.***

Just when you think you know your favorite author well, a surprise comes out of nowhere on the ever-expansive Internet. It’s been a while since I’ve last posted on this site, so last night I was scouring the Google news search feature to find any Kenneth Roberts tidbits to share. I was not disappointed.

Ten months ago, Nancy Noble (Archivist/Cataloger at the Maine Historical Society) wrote a very interesting piece for Bowdoin College’s “Community” section of their website, titled “‘With books in their pockets’: Armed Service Editions at Special Collections.” According to Noble, she recently had the opportunity to be a researcher at Bowdoin College Library’s archives department. Noble’s work has included “cataloging the World War I pamphlet collection” at MHS, and during her work she stumbled across a book titled “When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning.

Via Manning, Noble discovered Armed Service Edition books, which were special edition books provided to soldiers during World War II. According to Noble,

Prior to World War II, soldiers would receive donated books through the Victory Book Campaign.  Beginning in the early 1940s, the Council on Books in Wartime began printing ASEs (as they were known) specifically for the soldiers. ASEs were among the first mass produced paperbacks ever created. The books needed to be lightweight and small enough to carry. Two sizes were printed– a larger edition, which would fit into a pocket of a soldier’s pants, and a smaller edition, which would fit into a breast pocket. Overall, 123 million ASEs were published, compared to about 18 million books donated through the Victory Book Campaign.

Bowdoin College’s Special Collections department own nineteen ASEs, which were donated by Richard Harwell, former librarian of Bowdoin College. Of interest to this site is the inclusion of Kenneth Roberts’ novel, Lively Lady (1931).

A photo of five ASE books owned by Bowdoin College's library. Lively Lady ASE is in the top right. Photo - Bowdoin College Special Collections

Lively Lady ASE is in the top right. Photo – Bowdoin College Special Collections

My initial thought after discovering this interesting bit of news was, “Why didn’t they use another one of Roberts’ more famous novels?” By the time of the United States’ entry into World War II, Roberts had also published the novels Arundel (1929), Rabble in Arms (1933), Captain Caution (1934), Northwest Passage (1937), and Oliver Wiswell (1940). Given the size of the ASEs, Roberts’ more well-known novels were probably ruled out due to their length, leaving ASE editors to choose between Lively Lady and Captain Caution – Roberts’ two shortest novels of the time (Boon Island and Battle of Cowpens would not be published until the 1950s).

What led the ASE editors to choose Lively Lady over Captain Caution? I honestly don’t know. It’d be interesting to know what led to their choice, but it’s possible that we may never know. Personally, I’ve never come across anything where Roberts discusses  the ASE version of Lively Lady (granted, I don’t have access to his correspondence, so it’s possible there is some mention). Nevertheless, what we have here is a unique piece of history – one of Roberts’ novels travelled the globe during WWII in the pockets of U.S. soldiers.

Here is a helpful article by James M. Dourgarian on ASEs. He provides a thorough and detailed history of ASEs.

Photo credit:

[Update 9/18/18] A fellow Roberts fan (Terry) over at my Kenneth Roberts Facebook page left a comment stating that Roberts’ Northwest Passage is also available in the Armed Services Edition, but it’s an abridged version. I checked out, and sure enough, there’s Northwest Passage in the ASE, as well as Arundel and Captain Caution. So, this leads me to question if there are other ASE copies. As such, this post is “to be continued” until I can determine whether there are other ASE editions of Kenneth Roberts’ novels. In the meantime, check out AbeBooks for copies of Roberts’ ASE books.


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