Saturday, January 23, 2010


A word that has been floating around quite a bit lately is hope.  With the crises going on in the world today--especially the crisis in Haiti--it's nice to stop and think about things that have offered us hope.

I wracked my brains for a book that I've read that left me feeling hopeful after I read it, and the book I came up with is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

The title is a mouthful but memorable; part of me started reading the book simply so I could figure out what a 'literary and potato peel pie society' would consist of and why someone would start such a society.  My dear friend Shannon recommended the book to me months before I actually read it, and at first I was a bit skeptical because the book is written and presented as a collection of personal letters sent among the main characters in the book.  Once I got to the third letter, though, I was hooked.  Reading letters rather than a more typical narrative made the story feel more "real" because it was like discovering a treasure trove of saved letters from a historical era.

The book is set just after the Second World War in Guernsey, a British island that had been inhabited by the Nazis for part of the war.  The primary character, Juliet, is a writer who had written light pieces for a newspaper during the war to provide hope for the residents of London during desolate times of bombings and raids.  After the war, her life--as well as the world around her--is in shambles.  She has no real direction for herself when the book begins, but her life takes her on a journey when she finds someone who shares the love of one of her favorite authors.  Through letters, she learns that this man is a part of a group called the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," and she becomes intrigued.  She plans a vacation to meet the man and his literary society to re-spark her writing efforts.  While there, her life--and writing--changes directions.  The book offers a look into post-war England and shows the characters as they--and those around them--put their lives back together.  The plot alone is enough to fulfill its status as a hopeful book, yet the characters and setting also drew me in.  The characters' triumphs were my triumphs; their discoveries opened my heart and spurred me on through the book.

Those aspects of the book are not all that make me feel hope, though--the language is both whimsical and profound, and the ideas explored include both the minute and philosophically deep.  One of my favorite lines in the book--because of its whimsicality--is this:

The two of them together benasties the mind.
How can you not love a book that uses a word like benasties?  I also like that I learned new words, such as inveigle, while reading.  The characters, most of whom are avid readers, discuss more than their daily lives--they discuss ideas and philosophers and hopes and dreams.  One such line that stuck with me is a quote a character provided from Seneca:

As Seneca says, "Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb."
I applaud Shaffer and Barrows for writing such a timeless and hopeful book.  What books have you read that left you with feelings of hope?

Happy reading and hoping!


Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Wow, this sounds like the type of book I'd need a dictionary to read! It sounds beautiful though, so I'll definitely keep my eye out for it. Philosophy is always a plus; it keeps you on your toes when reading. Thank you for the great review! :)

Jessie Sams said...


Luckily, I was reading it on the Kindle, which has the dictionary built into it. It may take time to look up some of the words, but they are worth looking up (if for no other reason than you can start slinging them around because they're so fun to say). After you read it, I'd love to hear what you think about it!

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