After being in the Appalachian Mountains and The Congo, our next trip this summer is to Guernsey Island off the coast of England. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows will speak to us as a community because so much of the communication is done at a distance.
Here’s a summary of the book from Amazon: “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb.
“As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
“Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
“Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.”
Sounds perfect for us, doesn’t it?
I also enjoy hearing a bit about the back ground of a book. Here’s how this book came into being:
“U.S. author Shaffer planned to write the biography of Kathleen Scott, wife of the English polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott. While researching the subject, she traveled to Cambridge, England, but was discouraged to find that the subject’s personal papers were nearly unusable. While dealing with this frustration, she decided to spend some of her planned stay in England by visiting Guernsey in the Channel Islands. However, as soon as she arrived, the airport was shut down due to heavy fog. She spent her visit in the airport’s bookstore, reading several histories of the German occupation of those islands during World War II.
“It was twenty years before Shaffer began a novel dealing with Guernsey. She had abandoned her plan to write the Scott biography, and said ‘All I wanted was to write a book that someone would like enough to publish.’
“After the manuscript had been accepted for publication (2006), the book’s editor requested some changes that required substantial rewriting, but around that time Shaffer’s health had deteriorated dramatically (she died on 16 February 2008). She asked the daughter of her sister Cynthia, Annie Barrows, who by that time was a well-established author of children’s literature, to finish the editing and rewriting. Barrows did so, and thereby became a listed co-author on the work.”
I was sorry to hear that Shaffer had died, but curious to hear how the two women came to co-author a book. This website has a short video interview with Annie Barrows about the book and was fun to watch. Annie Barrows published her own book in June–entitled The Truth According to Us: a novel. While I can’t say whether I recommend it or not, I can recommend 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff. Similar to Guernsey, 84 Charing Cross Road is a book compiled of actual letters. “This book is the very simple story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London’.” Loved it.
If you haven’t seen the recently released Woman in Gold movie, I also recommend it (it’s related to WWII, thus the shout out). After watching it, I wondered how historically accurate it is — other than about three fairly minor details — it’s accurate. Here is the official trailer (if you’re reading this in an email, click here):
And now for the reading plan of the book –
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
Since this book is about a book club, the books they read, and how the books formed them, let’s talk about the books we’ve read over the months. Which books have you enjoyed? What do you like about reading in community? What has stayed with you from our discussions or the books you read?
See you in the comments :),
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