Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Good Read

Every now and then, I read a book that reaches out and grabs me. I recently finished one that had me hooked by page 2 and keeps circling through my mind days after completing it.

I'd noted the title a year or so ago when it was on the bestseller lists because it was a bit unusual. I wondered what in the world the story entailed with a title of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I noticed it on the shelf at our local library a couple weeks ago, read the frontispiece and decided to give it a try.

The story is written in a most unusal way. No narrator tells us what is happening. Instead, we read letters, one letter after another. The entire book is nothing but letters. The story bursts forth from these letters written by a variety of people in London and the island of Guernsey in 1946. WWII is finally over, and the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, has survived German occupation. Dawsey Adamas, an inhabitant of the island, writes a letter to a young woman in London, who has gained fame as a columnist during the war. He has seen her name and adress in a an old book of hers that he now owns. Could she possibly send the name of a bookshop where he might order more of the works of Charles Lamb? He adds a little detail about a pig dinner during German occupation being the beginning of the Guernsey Liteary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet Ashton is so intrigued by his letter that she answers him and begins to ask questions.

From there, the correspondence takes off like greased lightning with letters from these two characters, Juliet's publisher, her close friend, and a variety of other people on the island. The many colorful characters, subtle humor, and fascinating story of the wartime experiences all kept me reading later into the night that I should have. Like many a good old-fashioned melodrama, I found myself cheering for some and wanting to hiss at other characters.

The story also provoked a lot of thought on the lost art of letter writing. In the technological world we live in, fewer and fewer people write personal letters. Send a quick text message, jot a note or two on Facebook and Twitter, or use e-mail for longer messages. Quick and easy--yes, but something wonderful has been lost. The personal letters of many famous people have served to help write their biographies, explain parts of our history to us, and revealed far more about their personality than a tweet does.

If you enjoy historical novels and are curious as to the beginnings of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, pick up a copy at your local library, bookstore, or through an online bookseller. I don't think you'll be disappointed. The authors of the book, Mary Ann Shaffer, and her niece, Annie Barrows have succeeded in giving readers something to remember.

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