From Suko to Readers
I have a confession to make, and the sooner I get it off my chest, the better. I admit that the outlandish title of this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, left me wondering if I'd ever actually read it. Many recommended this book to me, but I couldn't get past the awkward sounding, eight-word title. Guernsey brought to mind that special breed of cows--not anything to do with books or literary circles-- and it took me a while to even be able to recite the title properly. Furthermore, potato peel pie, quite frankly, sounded utterly unappealing to me, and I wondered if the book held any appeal for me at all. But, because this book received so many glowing reviews, I knew I'd read it--eventually. And I'm glad that I made the effort recently. Now I realize that the title is just right--its very oddness is wonderful--and I don't stumble over the title words quite as much.
An interesting, well-written letter is worth it's weight in gold, especially in this age of email and instant messages. Published in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a set of letters from Juliet, a writer in London, to the other characters in the book, many of whom live in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands (part of Great Britain but located in the English Channel, close enough to see mainland Europe with the naked eye). This is an epistolary book, a novel written as a series of documents, letters in this case. (I wish I could write such dramatic letters!) Written with ample warmth and humor, these letters form a novel that's an original celebration of books and the written word, and of human connection. (Letters are an engaging, creative way to tell a story. I enjoyed reading West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose, which is also a series of letters. What other books are composed solely of letters?)
In this sensational novel, written by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, the title literary club is formed, literally, in self-defense. During World War II, Guernsey was occupied by the Germans for five years, who, among other things, imposed strict curfews on the villagers. Caught heading home past curfew after an illegal dinner of roast pork, an assorted group of islanders form The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—out of the need for an immediate alibi. In order to validate their claim, the members of this newly formed literary group decide to hold actual subsequent meetings (sometimes featuring desserts such as potato peel pie, the only pie they could make with the scant supplies available). To their surprise, especially since several of the members had never read much before, the club soon ignites a genuine love of reading and books, as well as some intense literary debates.
As London emerges from the shadow of World War II in 1946, writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. She is contacted by a native of Guernsey, who has discovered her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the intriguing world of this man, Dawsey, a pig farmer, and other members of the book club who also write to her. Juliet begins a prolific correspondence with the society’s members--charming them (and us!) with her marvelous letters--and learning about their island, their book preferences, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sails to Guernsey, and the course of her own life is greatly altered.
I absolutely adore this line from the book, and although it is on the inside book jacket, I will repeat it here because it is superb:
"Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."
That is exactly how I felt about this book: that it was precisely what I needed to read. This happens to me fairly often. I pick up a book and quickly realize it's what I need to be reading, that it has significance and relates to my life in some way in an almost uncanny manner. In this instance, it's significance was mostly due to all the "book talk".
If you have read this book, have an interest in reading it, or have a comment related to something else in this post, I would enjoy hearing from you. As always, thank you for reading.