One More Slice of Potato Pie

A search for “Guernsey” shows no fewer than 15 posts here on Book Group Buzz about Mary Ann Shaffer’s and Annie Burrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What can I say, I’m slow. Here’s sweet sixteen.

There were certain words that kept popping up in descriptions of Guernsey that kept me at arm’s length… “cute,” “sweet,” and “sentimental” are not my favorite adjectives when it comes to reading, and the epistolary format is not my favorite, as it often wears thin before the book ends. But browsing for an audiobook one afternoon, there was Guernsey, and I decided to give it a chance.

I’m glad I did. The story of a young woman writer who becomes correspondent, visiting member, and finally regular of the literary society on the Channel Island of Guernsey just after WWII is worthy of the attention it received when published in 2008, and it’s the kind of book that says so much about the value of literature in creating communication and connection between people that it really should be on the required reading list for almost every book group.

The audiobook is a special treat. With a full cast of readers, the epistolary format takes life, and the panoply of rich British voices is a treat for the ears. As for cuteness, yes, the book is very sweet, but there is plenty of real tragedy to balance the ledger, and the cutesier bits are carried off with a degree of panache and strength of character that will soothe most of us curmudgeons.

Book groups should compare the Guernsey society to their own, as there are many sly portrayals of book group archetypes: the reader who only seems to like one writer, members who come only to socialize and don’t read the books, the dotty naif who constantly discovers familiar writers in charming ways, the bad writer who tries to make the group read his or her own work, and so on. A fun question to explore would be which members of the Guernsey crew each of your readers resemble.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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