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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Epistolary Novel Liked By All

Dear Frank,

Although you weren't able to be at our meeting this month, the Barnes & Noble staff took care of all our needs, including extra chairs, coffee, cookies, and putting away the chairs.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, was the first book in a long time that received all hands up when I asked, "How many liked the book?" Generally, everyone enjoyed reading the book. We identified some especially clever aspects and (of course) offered some critiques as we talked about the book in general and then addressed specific questions under Carla's guidance.

Praise included the sheer pleasure of reading the book. The word "delightful" was used. Members said that the characters were easy to get to know and that they seemed real. The historical facts about the German occupation added depth and enriched the story without overpowering it with researched detail. The themes of reading and the book club in the story were of interest to us all! We liked the evidence of the characters being changed by joining the book club and reading. We saw that reading helped the individuals escape from the daily difficulties surrounding the German occupation and war, and we noted that discussing the books helped the characters get to know each other.

As we got to know the characters, some of us developed the feeling that there were very few other people on Guernsey. To us, it was as if the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society were the only people around. When someone brought up this idea, I realized that in my mind, Dawsey's land was along a road, and Elizabeth's place was along a road, and everyone else in the story had a home in the area, but there wasn't much between these homes besides greenery and some rolling hills. We had a good laugh over that idea. It wasn't so much a critique of the book as a shared experience of it.

Another perceptive comment we appreciated was Pam's noticing that through the letters the reader was given each character's perspective on each topic. There were several times in the book when this was particularly effective in giving the reader the full story on an issue or topic. The only main character who never wrote a letter was Remy. We decided that Remy was important in that she brought the news about Elizabeth's imprisonment, heroics, and death; and that she added tension to the romance between Dawsey and Juliet.

Questions raised included the following: "Who will play Juliet in the movie? (Maybe Amy Adams?)" Did letters from Oscar Wilde really appear in Guernsey? I couldn't find anything corroborating this online. The only thing I found was a blogger who noted that at the time the letters in Potato Peel Pie were supposedly written, Wilde was indeed not using the signature that was used to identify him in the story. Was Elizabeth too good to be possible? Heroics aside, we decided that Elizabeth was a lot like Juliet: independent, caring, and unconventional.

The character Isola received special mention as a favorite. Many of us had particularly noted her statement, "Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books." There was some disagreement among us as to the veracity of the statement!

Related media mentioned: Movie - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, about a boy helping a Jewish boy during WWII. Epistolary book and movie: 85 Charing Cross Road.

Frank, we suggest that this would be a "delightful" book for you and Judy to read aloud. We really think both of you would be pleasantly surprised, as some of us were. We can't promise you any blatant violence in this story, but there is the aftermath of WWII.

Respectfully, Claudia

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