This essay explores the possibilities of thinking about the production, circulation, and reception of books through the form of the network. Using archival material of the Council of Books in Wartime, the essay reassembles some of the many attachments that formed the Armed Services Editions during World War II, one of the largest enterprises in the history of publishing. The essay traces the selections of the council, the networks of soldier-readers created by the books themselves, and the acts of reading constrained and made possible by these attachments across front lines and through bureaucratic memos. This assembly provides the backdrop for a consideration of the text of Thomas Mann’s “Mario and the Magician,” a short story published in the Armed Services Editions in 1944, whose plot not only mirrors the tension between authority and free will manifested in the geopolitical conflict of World War II, but also elucidates the dialectic of power and agency modeled by the form of the network as articulated in the council’s reader-producing experiment itself. What is ultimately at stake in positing an uneven network of actors who negotiate, maintain, extend, and possibly even subvert vectors of cultural power is a reconsideration of the agency attributed to readers in sociological studies of literature.

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