Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I'm Reading Now-The Jumbo 2010 Catch-Up Edition, Part IV: Seriously, I Think I'm Done Now

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows-This is one of those books with which  I'm not really sure what to do.  I did enjoy it, let's start there.  I'm always skeptical about books written in epistolary format-the idea of it just doesn't appeal to me.  All the date, time, location, salutation stuff just slows me down.  I can't skim; if it's there, I have to read it.

Here's my real dilemma:  It wasn't that long ago that I read this (four months ago), and while I do remember thinking that it was charming and enjoying reading it (in fact I have a sent email in which I tell someone that I "loved it!"), I could tell you virtually nothing about it now.  This lady goes to this island and visits some people there.  If it weren't for my notes, that would have been your review.  However, I managed to find my notes from when I was reading, and as I was going over them I found myself thinking, Oh yeah, I loved that!  So, do you grade a book based on how much you loved it at the time you read it or how "meh" you feel about it four months later?  

While we all ponder that, I'll share with you some of the things that I liked about the book.

Juliet Ashton lives in post-war London and has reluctantly sold many books, one of which ended up in Dawsey Adams' possession, and he wrote her a letter to let her know how much the book meant to him.  He is a resident of Guernsey, a small island in the English Channel, that is still trying to recover from its war-time occupation.  In her response to him, she says, "Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.  How delightful if that were true."  She later says, "That's what I love about reading:  one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It's geometrically progressive--all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment."  Ah!  Didn't I just say the same thing in my review of Flower Confidential?

In another of Dawsey's letters to Juliet, he says, "Some of the things being sent to us are wrapped up in old newspaper and magazine pages.  My friend Clovis and I smooth them out and take them home to read--then we give them to neighbors who, like us, are eager for any news of the outside world in the past five years.  Not just any news or pictures:  Mrs. Saussey wants to see recipes; Mme. LePell wants fashion papers (she is a dressmaker); Mr. Brouard reads Obituaries (he has his hopes, but won't say who); Claudia Rainey is looking for pictures of Ronald Colman; Mr. Tourtelle wants to see Beauty Queens in bathing dress; and my friend Isola likes to read about weddings."  I love this way of depicting a village.

Juliet is an author and after corresponding with Dawsey for a while has taken great interest in hearing about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and has asked Dawsey if, on her behalf, he would solicit his neighbors for their stories about the society.  In her letter, Mrs. Maugery tells Juliet, "Dawsey Adams has just been to call on me.  I have never seen him as pleased with anything as he is with your gift and letter.  He was so busy convincing me to write to you by the next post that he forgot to be shy.  I don't believe he is aware of it, but Dawsey has a rare gift for persuasion--he never asks for anything for himself, so everyone is eager to do what he asks for others."  What a lovely thing to have someone like that in your life!

You can see what I mean about this book being charming, no?  In addition to the charm, there is also a lot of wit, particularly from Juliet.

In Juliet's letter to her friend, Sophie:  "Do you remember that afternoon in Leeds when we speculated on the possible reasons why Markham V. Reynolds, Junior, was obliged to remain a man of mystery?  It's very disappointing, but we were completely wrong.  He's not married.  He's certainly not bashful.  He doesn't have a disfiguring scar that causes him to shun daylight.  He doesn't seem to be a werewolf (no fur on his knuckles, anyway).  And he's not a Nazi on the lam (he'd have an accent)."  I love that the natural progression of speculation goes:  married, bashful, disfigured, werewolf, Nazi.

And again in a letter to her publisher/friend, Sidney:  "He's an expert on Wilkie Collins, of all things.  Did you know that Wilkie Collins maintained two separate households with two separate mistresses and two sets of children?  The scheduling difficulties must have been shocking.  No wonder he took laudanum."

In response to her friend Sophie's poor attempt at snooping:  "Am I in love with him?  What kind of a question is that?  It's a tuba among the flutes, and I expect better of you.  The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways--when you began writing me dizzy letters about Alexander, I didn't ask if you were in love with him, I asked what his favorite animal was.  And your answer told me everything I needed to know about him--how many men would admit that they loved ducks?"

The other thing that I liked about this book is that it was so clearly written by people who love books--there's a bit about a broken engagement that any true book-lover would understand and non-book-lovers would just think is crazy.  The book as a whole was a bit reminiscent of 84, Charring Cross Road, which I loved for many of the same reasons that I loved this book.  There!  I said it!  See, we just had to come at this sideways, like Juliet said!  Characters who love books, people far away connecting with and helping each other, good humor, it's all there.  So, if you're one of the 12 people out there who still hasn't read this, go read it.  You'll love it!

Well, you can see why this book got its own post, but if you haven't yet checked out The Jumbo 2010 Catch-Up Edition, parts I, II, and III, don't be intimidated.  They're not all this bad, and the one that is talks a lot about Valentine's Day, so you can skip that part.

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