My mom recently recommended a book that I just finished reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (find it on Amazon.com here). I have to share this recommendation, because it’s been a long time since I so thoroughly enjoyed a book. Admittedly, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the intense nature of much of the literature I read, especially in the creative nonfiction genre. I’ll just come out and say it — a lot of what’s out there is pretty depressing. It’s not that I think literature shouldn‘t be thought-provoking; it should. It’s important to be confronted, as a reader, by experiences, thoughts and events that might be easier to avoid and ignore. Reading such literature helps us grow and become inspired in thought or action, not just as readers and writers, but as people.
Not everyone writes from a difficult place, however: look at Bill Bryson and A Walk in the Woods. Because I do read a lot of intense stuff, now and then I find myself wanting to read something that takes me away from it all — something that, dare I say it, just plain entertains me. ‘You know’, I have to tell myself…’it’s OK to laugh, too.’
It will probably be no surprise to hear, therefore, that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books, and I think the only book I’ve read from beginning to end at least four times (and that’s not counting the many times I watched the BCC mini-series, which of course I have on tape). I won’t even attempt to explain why I think that book is so great; I simply couldn’t do it justice. But I can tell you that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though published just a couple of years ago, has a similar feel — it is bright, fun, witty and full of lively characters, and it has the added benefit of teaching the reader about a historical event — the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. The authors (a writer and her niece, who completed the novel after the aunt became ill) create just the right balance between the fun and the historic by spinning a largely lighthearted and romantic tale while occasionally dropping in an anecdote or detail that gently reminds the reader that this was indeed a war that led to devastating tragedy. That reality is always in the background, but it doesn’t take center stage in this novel; instead, it serves to remind us that the greatest victory against evil is to survive, recover and thrive.
One of the most interesting things about the book, by the way, is that the story is told through letters sent back and forth between a young English writer in London, her colleagues and friends, and the people she eventually meets on the island of Guernsey. As a writer, it’s interesting to note how the authors managed to fit in basic necessities such as characterization, plot and sensory detail, all within the format of personal correspondence.
Basically, I couldn’t put the book down. So if you’re in the mood for something well-written, fun and informative — and a relatively quick read — pick up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.