Book Clubs

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society started as a cover up for an illicit roast pig dinner. You have to read the book to imagine any connection at all- and what on earth is potato peel pie?

Well, among the many historical details I learned about the state of Guernsey during German occupation in WWII, I discovered that rationing in England was nothing like as severe and limiting as what was experienced there. The pie in question was of mashed potato, sweetened with beets and with Potato peelings as a crust.

And the members of the Society were not avid and well-educated readers: as a subterfuge because of the Germans, they took a book each to read and talk about- and fell in love with their books. This story and these characters give some intriguing and unexpected thoughts about classics which are usually “taught” and readers trained in the expected responses. This made me wonder how much of “my” response to a book is a taught response; maybe “Marcus Aurelius was an old woman, forever taking his mind’s temperature.” “He never had a tiny thought he couldn’t turn into a sermon.”are better responses than my labour to extract wisdom from a Great Author. Though in fact, one of the reasons I did well In University was that as a penniless nun, I couldn’t buy all the suggested texts and commentaries and stuck more than most to reading the actual originals.  And maybe an old lady like Isola in the story would love finding out from Cathy and Heathcliff  about the love and romance she has never experienced – and feeling sorry for those poor Bronte girls. One character, Eben Ramsay, reads Shakespeare and finding the sentence “The bright day is done and we are for the dark,” wishes he could have said that in his mind instead of “damn them, damn them” when the Germans invaded.

The format of the book is a series of letters from and to the protagonist, Juliet. As she searches for a unifying centre  in the fiction she is writing, she becomes this novel’s unifying centre. Neat. Jane Austen also used the narrative method of letters effectively to portray people’s characters and idiosyncrasies in their own words -but in revealing ways they would not be aware of. There is also some referencing to and fro- Oscar Wilde is mentioned near the beginning and is important in the ending. I enjoy Mary Ann Shaffer’s and Annie Barrows’ style of writing.

One of my book groups reads slowly and discusses style and character a lot, one of the groups read for ideas – a chapter at a time  from a religious work, and one reads a book a month chosen and introduced by a member.  And why do we read? This novel puts forward several reasons , especially among the new readers: to have words for your experiences, to get inside the mind and life of someone you are not like, to be inspired, to “not go gaga”- all good reasons to me.

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