Reading Good Books Ruins You {Book Club}

Now this, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, feels like a summer book, doesn’t it? 

Even though the ravages of WWII can be seen in Guernsey, London, and Australia, this book has a hopeful feel. First of all, I love the way the story is told through letters. I was recently toying with the idea of publishing a book compiled of the twenty years of newsletters I’ve written (not very seriously, but the thought did cross my mind). Have any of you read A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? The chapter told through a powerpoint presentation was so clever, I almost couldn’t believe the way Egan pulled it off. I don’t remember the plot or the book, but I remember that chapter.

I think our lives are told in letters too. Between blogs, emails, texting, Facebook, and other forms of written communication, our stories are often shared in pieces and not clear narratives. I wonder when the first book told through Facebook posts will come out? Or at least a chapter in a book. Here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about when a story is told through letters (or the like), there is so much not included that requires piecing together.

How have you seen a cohesive story line to your story? Where are people making too many assumptions, or possibly wrong assumptions?

I love a line that evokes an actual out loud laugh from me. “Susan Scott said you took to the audience at the luncheon like a drunkard to rum.” Or “Yours in Christian Consternation and Concern, Adelaide Addison (Miss).” There is a willingness to laugh and not turn away from serious and devastating conditions. Though like Juliet there are times, “I know that I am fortunate to have any place at all to live in London, but I much prefer whining to counting my blessings.”

In her letter on 23rd January, I could relate to the tension of having gone without something (here, new clothes), that it felt too decadent to have it. What has been a struggle for you to have? What do to the locals in your context feel is a bit extravagant about your life (and you might agree or disagree)?

I sat up straight when I read in the 31st January letter about Elizabeth and Her German Garden since we’d read The Pastor’s Wife also by Elizabeth Von Arnim last February! Yay us. Yay literary societies. Of more substance in that letter was Dawsey’s sharing how much he didn’t understand or missed out on because of being cutoff for several years. I found this theme to strike a chord with us too. Where have you felt cutoff or that you might need a friend or family member to explain something to you to help understand better?

I loved how Juliet gave two references, one who would speak highly, and one who wouldn’t and the ways that each shared more of Juliet with us. What did you think of her ex-fiance packing up her books?

It was endearing to me how the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being and how a shared experience can be bonding. Watching the non-readers in their group begin to dip their toes into reading was fun. As Isola said, “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” 

I’m taken with this cast of characters. Have you ever lived on an island? Again, I’m delightfully surprised how this book has so much to offer us in terms of themes we can relate to!  What stood out to you as you read? See you in the comments :),

Amy

Reading plan:

August 11: Roughly a third of the book (including the 27 March 1946 letter)

August 18: Roughly second third (including the 16 June 1946 letter)

August 25: Roughly the final third

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12 Comments

  1. Kim August 10, 2015

    Love this book! Two friends who know me well gave me copies 🙂 It was just as much a joy to read it the second go around; I think with books like this you pick up more each time. I loved that the story was told through (mostly) letters with a few telegraphs thrown in and Isola’s notebook near the end. The common theme of the written word is powerful.

    So many sections of this book had me laughing out loud, and sometimes having to stop and read a portion out loud to my husband 🙂 As for extravagant things we have that our neighbors don’t: my beloved KitchenAid mixer and a crockpot. My husband thought it best that I sew covers for them, so they’re not “on display”. Also my sewing machine. Yes, some of my friends have machines but nothing to compare to my Pfaff embroidery machine that I saved up for three years and bought used on eBay. Mostly though we try to live like our neighbors. Instead of real dishes I use melamine and also those hard plastic diner-style glasses that don’t easily break on the hard ceramic floors. I hang my clothes on the line to dry. (Confession: I do have a dryer but it’s expensive to run so I only run my husband’s dress shirts in it for a few minutes to get the wrinkles out and then I hang it on the line to finish drying.

    Definitely feel that disconnect after being overseas so long. My kids and friends keep me updated on some trends, favorite new t.v. shows and movies, fashion, etc. but I still feel like we miss huge chunks and I always feel out of it when we go back on furlough. To this day I cannot undrstand the appeal of reality television. I also don’t quite get the binge-show watching phenomena. I’d get very yancy sitting through hour after hour of a season of any one show. (Definitely showing my age now, heh? 🙂

    One of the things that resonated was Juliet’s immediate connection with her correspondents. Our first year on the field I’d have gone bonkers had I not had a circle of internet friends developed through blogging. It’s been a joy to meet some of them on subsequent furloughs, but for several years they were friends only through our blog comments. But I felt like I really knew them, and eventually meeting them just confirmed that. That connection helped keep me sane while learning a new language, a new culture, and dealing with some serious health issues (“Don’t drink the water” does not apply only to third world countries!).

    I’m sad that real letter writing has gone out of fashion, for the most part. And I’m just as much to blame. It’s so easy to shoot off an email and know the recipient will get it instantaneously. If I do take time to write a real letter, and send it off in the mail, I know it’s a hit-or-miss proposition that they’ll even receive it, and it will take weeks to get to them by which point all the news is out of date.

    Isola’s comment about reading good books ruins you for the other really resonated. I habitually get free Kindle books, only to read a few pages or maybe as much as a chapter, and then delete it. (Most of it is free for a reason.)

    Today my SIL sent us scanned copies of a couple letters she found that my MIL wrote while in college (she’s now 94). There are 25 letters altogether and my SIL will send a couple a day until she’s sent them all. It’s fascinating to read mother’s thoughts and experiences, and a couple of paragraphs had us in stitches! We were also surprised to learn she once played trombone! We never knew that. Can’t wait to find out what other secrets she’s been keeping from us 🙂

    I also want to add that my husband’s maternal grandparents were avid journalers and letter writers. In fact, Grandma was the one who kept the far flung family up-to-date on all that was happening with each of the six children and their families (four of the six were Ms and spread around the world). Everyone wrote to Grandma and she painstakingly typed up the letters on an old manual, using multiple layers of carbon paper between sheets of thin onion-skin paper (nobody liked getting the last copy which was barely visible). What a treasure we have in those letters! And it helped my husband to feel like he knew his aunts, uncles and cousins even though he’s still not met all of them.

    I’m really grateful my SIL (the oldest of the siblings) has taken it upon herself to become the family archivist. She’s slowly sorting and scanning and sharing and we’re loving it!

     

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2015

      Kim, God Bless family archivists! (I said, because I am one :)). But really, regardless of who it is, it is a blessing to have family history preserved and passed down. Have you heard of the show (not to binge watch it, wink!) Who Do you Think You Are? where a “famous” person traces back either a side or a person in their lineage? I find it fascinating for several reasons — one is that there are some amazingly eery family patterns (making me think of my own family) and another is that ALL of our families are interesting. I don’t care that they are “famous,” it’s interesting regardless.

  2. Kim August 10, 2015

    I also want to echo the sentiments about how great the book choices have been!! We have been spoiled to have many visitors come from Canada to help us with the disconnect.  We are definitely more and more aware of it as the months fade into years.  God has really been dealing with me and a deep fear I have that our children are missing out on ‘real life.’  It wasn’t something I thought of consciously, but with our most recent friends visit, I noticed I felt the need to defend my kids (As soon as I heard myself say, “Well, my kids do…..” a few times I knew something was up).  I apologized to her for trying to ‘one-up’ her and spent some good time with the Lord asking him to show me the richness of what we are doing and to help me put value on things that are of true value (not just cultural value).  I think I may be rambling, but I was reminded of it as I read!  I laughed when Kim said that she covers her Kitchenaid….we keep our Bosch machine in the drawer and pull it out when not too many people are around…..

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2015

      Kim, I think you’re going to love next week’s theme :). And it’s those repeated phrases where we hear what’s really going on in our hearts, isn’t it? thanks for reminding and inviting us to listen to our own!

  3. Anna August 12, 2015

    I’ve really been enjoying this book.  Juliet has such a lighthearted writing style, but you can see that it covers much deeper thoughts and feelings.  Even though you see less of the story and description of characters in some ways through the letters, you really get a feel for their personalities in how they express themselves.  I almost feel like a little bit of a voyeur, like I’m peeking through people’s windows.

    I liked how Juliet asked for the 2 references, and both of them said she could be trusted.  It was interesting how you can learn good things about people from the people who dislike them and the reasons they dislike them.  Didn’t Adelaide Addison’s descriptions of the book club just make you like them even more and want to find out more about them?

    I love letters, and try to write them as much as I can.  Generally, it’s something I enjoy, and I know everyone enjoys getting something personal in the mail.  I’m always happy to get one myself, and they are fun to go back and reread.  I still appreciate the instant and more reliable communication via e-mail, so I don’t want to give that up!

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2015

      Anna, I love letters too 🙂 and thankfully the love of letter writing has caught on with at least one niece — I learned this year one of her friendships blossomed when Niece wrote to the girl faithfully as she was hospitalized for anorexia. She also writes consistently with an older woman at her church and sends encouraging notes to her youth pastor.

      And YES! Adelaide’s letter made me think of the book club, “these ARE my kind of people :)!” and like them more!

  4. Anna August 12, 2015

    I feel really strongly about the importance of knowing and remembering history.  Partly because people deserve to have their stories known, and you can learn how to avoid mistakes when you see how they have developed and played out.  Another part is that you can see how current events are still being affected by the historical background.  World War II is such a great example of that.  And I think that historical fiction is a way to get some of the human affects behind the facts and figures and various countries involved.

    I really enjoyed seeing how the book club came into being, and some of the members who didn’t normally read learned to love books and reading.  I also love how the hard times of the war and occupation pulled many of them together, and they became a support for each other.  Isn’t it great how intensely difficult times can have positive and lasting results in our lives.

    I’ve never lived on an island, and I’m not sure I would like it.  I get extreme motion sickness with any kind of travel, so the going to & from the island makes me say no.  The rest of my family would love it though!  One thing I can relate to with that island is small town life.  I love when you know your neighbors, and have things close by.  (Ironically, I have left small town life for a life that I travel constantly and don’t always know my neighbors.  Life can be like that.)

    For the question of extravagance, that would basically be our entire life in Congo.  There are people who are very poor, those who live in the jungle & live off the land, those who live in town in mud huts with dirt floors and thatch roofs.  Our house seems like a mansion with its concrete floors, screen windows, and big size.  I feel it the most when I give my cook marketing money for the week, or return from a trip to the market where I can spend a normal person’s entire week (or month) salary on non-essentials.

    Such a good book.  I could go on and on about it.  🙂

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2015

      Yay! I love it when a book provokes the “one more thing!” response :)!

      And I agree to the importance of knowing history as it still plays our and reverberates today on the small and grand scale.

  5. MaDonna August 13, 2015

    I have really liked this book and so glad that I “won” the copy from this group. Thanks Amy! Here are the quotes that I’ve marked so far…

    Jan. 15th letter from Juliet to Dawsey regarding the book by Charles Lamb that had Juilet’s address on it. She writes, “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” I have wondered that myself – especially in regards to songs. Have you ever listened to a song and it was the perfect song for that moment? It has happened to me a couple of times now.

    I, too, liked how the group bonded because they talked and discussed the books that they had.

    And I loved how Eben Ramsey shares with Juliet how books had changed him in his Feb 28th letter. He was writing about how the words of Shakespeare brought beauty. He writes, “I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them – and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words ‘the bright day is done and we are for the dark,’ I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance – instead of my heart sinking to my shoes.”

    Then he goes on to write about how they felt about the Germans continuing to be on the island – that hope seemed to fade. He writes, “We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.” I just really liked that picture of deep friendship that helped them through that hard period in their life.

    And then the last quote that I marked was from March 23rd from Juliet to Sophie where she tells Sophie that she shouldn’t go to Australia to see to Sidney. She lists of three reasons, but it is the third one that got me. It reads, “Third, Sidney has been stretched as tight as a bow-string for years. He needs a rest, and breaking his leg is probably the only way he’ll allow himself to take one.” Umm, how many of us have that mentality? We do ministry, we care for people, we write newsletter and updates, we do…do…do – and sometimes we forget to rest. I do wonder if at times if God doesn’t allow us to “break” something just for the sake of making us rest. What do you think?

    I, too, have loved the letter writing format. It was a bit hard at first figuring out who was who – but really it didn’t take that long to get the characters straight – and some of them are a hoot!

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2015

      Indeed 🙂 … to the “some of them are a hoot” part. They are. They remind me of some of the teams I’ve been a part of — ever had the conspiracy teammate? Or the nice protective hen teammate? And I love the idea of “homing instincts” for books, or songs, or verses. It is uncanny how one of them can pop up again and again and again!

  6. T August 13, 2015

    So glad to be reading this in unison w/folks this time–I’m in South Carolina with a library card, and I’m using it!!  Cutting to the chase, I cried when Eben described the German troops landing and unloading off of the boats.  The poor guy exclaimed, “Damn them” repeatedly…it paralleled with a bumper sticker I saw this summer, “F__ Cancer”.  I am not a cussing person, but I don’t remember ever agreeing so strongly with a bumper sticker as that one.  (My mom died of ovarian cancer a couple of years ago).  When my friend’s dad died this summer, and we were texting back and forth, I wrote to her that I’d seen that sticker, and it really touched her heart that I could understand what she was feeling. Okay, so that was a big tangent…anyway….Whether it is Germans or ISIS or cancer or just another person rejecting the Gospel (and us often at the same time), these things are very, very hard.  It is a big deal to be able to remain hopeFull, and faithFull as well.  I think that we can ask our friends to pray that into us so that we stay away from despair.

    Oh, and I hope Elizabeth returns home safely to her little girl–if not, then I might have to file a complaint!  The mom and baby dying were more than enough realism for me…

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2015

      T, I was moved too when Eben lamented over the Germans landing and I like how that bumper sticker cuts right to the core. Last night I was debriefing a family on their time overseas and talking about the “yay” duck” and the “yuck duck” and how often we feel pressure to only focus on the yay duck when the yuck ducks are pretty awful. I’m hoping we’re getting a little better at this :). I can only imagine how it spoke to the deep part of your friend when you texted her. If I received such I a text I think I’d exhale a little, tear up, and think “You Nailed it.”

      It IS a big deal to feed and foster hope and faith in light of all that is trying to steal them! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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