Sunday, February 28, 2010

The perfect book for bibliophiles

I've been seeing this book in bookstores for over a year now but was so afraid to pick it up. I've always though that it would be cheesy, sappy, and too melodramatic for my taste. Yesterday though, I finally grabbed a copy The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (TGLAPPPS, from now on) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It's a book about the love of reading and belonging in a book club -- two things that I can really relate to.

The novel is set in post-war England in 1946, when Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey, which forms part of England's Channel Islands. Dawsey starts a correspondence with Juliet, who is a writer herself and in search for the topic of her next book. Dawsey begins to tell Juliet how the residents of Guernsey formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to cope with the hostile German Occupation of the Channel Islands during the war. Eventually, more and more members of the society write letters to Juliet; each character telling personal stories during the Occupation and recounting how the book society nurtured their love for reading.

Juliet does become more involved with the lovable characters of the island. She eventually decides to visit Guernsey, as she feels a deep affinity for the members of the society. As Juliet becomes an accepted resident of Guernsey, she forms profound relationships with the society members. She decides to stay on the island and adopt an orphan of Elizabeth, one of the society's founding members.

TGLAPPPS is a love story of sorts. First it's about how people love reading. There are passages in the book that spoke to me as a bibliophile. Some of them are a bit cliche, but any book lover, or bookseller for that matter, would appreciate reading about them.
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. How delightful if that were true. [page 10]

I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers -- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one -- the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it -- along with first dibs on the new books. [page 15]
TGLAPPPS is an easy read. It's perfect for those lazy afternoons when you absolutely have no plans and you just want to stay in bed curled up with a good book. The writing style of Shaffer and Barrows is "breezy"; the novel takes almost no effort to read. You just turn the pages one after another to find out what's in store for Juliet and the members of the book society, which are as diverse in personality as their reading preferences. The authors also manage to throw in a romantic angle between Juliet and Dawsey, something which is definitely inspired by Austen's Pride and Prejudice. (I still haven't read P&P though. I'm forever stuck on page 47.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society isn't a great novel, but it sure is a good one. It's written in an epistolary style; letters just fly back and forth between the characters. Unfortunately, some of the characters lack a distinct voice, despite the interesting stories they convey in their letters. Nevertheless, I was happy to have read TGLAPPPS.

Several questions though kept running in my mind as I was reading this novel. We live in an age of emails, Facebook, and Twitter, yes? While I love these high-tech communication tools, I kept thinking that we won't be reading any more of the letters of our favorite authors because of them. How would email change the way we find out how our well-loved novelists and writers communicate with their friends and families? Would a compilation of emails have the same effect as those personal letters? Also, haven't you noticed that you see fewer small and independent bookstores? I just love them and the highly personalized service that they provide. Are small bookstores really on their way out?

Read this book if:
  1. You belong to a book club.
  2. You love letters.
  3. You've always wondered how a potato peel pie would taste.


Mrs. B. said...

I loved this book! It was on my best of 2009 list. So glad you enjoyed it too.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mrs. B! How could I not? It's a great book, especially for bibliophiles like us!

Krista said...

Great review. I love letters but I can't remember the last time I received one. An email yes but a letter no this world is too tech savvy now. lol And it does seem as though all our small bookstores are being shut down, because they just can't afford to keep themselves open its sad for sure.... I will keep a look out for this book thank you.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Krista! I'm sure you'll love this one!

Diane said...

Glad u enjoyed this book; I liked it as well.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Diane! I loved it!

StephanieD said...

I still haven't picked up this book either even though it is about a book club which would normally pull me in. I finally figured it out- because of the words "potato peel" in the title. But I love the quote: "Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."

Indigo said...

I haven't read this book either. After reading your review though, I'm tempted to pick it up for a summer read. Thanks for the recommend. (Hugs)Indigo

Vivienne said...

I absolutely adored this book. There are certain similarities between it and Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, which is also lovely but has to be read with The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

I definitely thing that small book shops are on their way out, which is a shame, however, they cannot compete with the low prices offered by larger retailers and the internet. I must confess to buying the majority of mine from Amazon.

gege said...

i have got to have this book! now na,

Tina said...

Not only is this a good read, it's also fabulous on audio. The book is read by Paul Boehmer, Susan Duerden, Rosalyn Landor, John Lee, and Juliet Mills --each one doing a different character with different accents. It's absolutely delicious. I'm on the lookout for a used copy of both the print and the audio to have for my "re-read again and again shelf."

You're so write, letter writing may become a lost art, but I have several good writers in my family (my husband for the first) so we're trying to keep that up. I think that's why I hate Facebook and IMs etc---as you can see, I just can't truncate words or thoughts.

Thanks for spotlighting another favorite.

Charlie said...

Well, you've done it to me again, Peter. I too have eyeballed this book for a year or more, but now I HAVE to have it.

I may try the audio version since Tina liked it so much.

And you raise an excellent point about the "Collected Emails of Jonathan Tropper" or some such.

mel u said...

I liked this book a really lot-I learned a lot about the Channel Islands of England in WWII from this book-I want one day to read the essays of Charles Lamb and read some Seneca also-inspired by this book-very good review-I think any book lover will enjoy it

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I love this book! It quickly got put on my favorite books of all time list.
I may or may not have put my name and address on some of my books after reading this book.

Peter S. said...

@StephanieD: I love the quote as well!

@Indigo: You're welcome!

@Vivienne: I absolutely loved 84 Charing Cross Road. It was so heartbreaking.

@Gege: We should have this book as one of our discussion themes.

@Tina: I can't even remember the last time I wrote a letter.

@Charlie: I can't wait to read your thoughts about this one when you read it!

@mel u: Yes, any book lover would love this!

@Buckeye Girl: That's an idea -- putting your name and address on your books. You just never know where your books will end up!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

#1You belong to a book club.
#2 You love letters.
#3 You've always wondered how a potato peel pie would taste.

Yes, yes, and yes!!! This baby has been on my bookshelf gathering dust and waiting on me. Thanks for the motivation to read it Peter!

stacybuckeye said...

My Mom gave me this one to read, but it's still sitting on the shelf. I'll keep it in mind for when I need something breezy :)

caite said...

I am glad you finally gave in and read it. A very enjoyable book...

Mirek Sopek said...

The title "good book for bibliofiles" urged me to tell you guys about the utmost book for bibliofiles: Carl's Jung "the Red Book". Its physicality makes it the ulitmate pBook (paper or physical Book).

See some pictures and short info

Jhay said...

Small and independent bookstores still abound in Europe, especially in France, Italy and London. At least according to my aunt who has visited those countries during her work.

It's one of my life's wishes to walk into one, have a chat with the bookseller and walk with a bag full of books at a bargain price!

Anna said...

I thought this was a charming book. I miss the letter-writing days.

I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Birdy said...

This has been one of my fav reads so far this year! :)