Thursday, May 21, 2009

Readalikes - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer was a book a lifetime in the making. Shaffer, who passed away in 2008, was a passionate reader who spent her life working in libraries and publishing. A visit to the Channel Islands in the 1970's introduced her to their literature and their history. Of especial interest was the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

In the late 1990's Shaffer was encouraged by friends and family to fulfill her dream and write her long percolating story. Unfortunately during the writing Shaffer's health deteriorated and her niece assisted her in finishing the book.
So the story:

During World War II the Germans occupied the island of Guernsey. The residents caught breaking curfew manufactured the excuse that they were attending a literary society meeting. When the Germans wanted to attend the meetings the society quickly formed discovering their mutual love of books. Evidence of this society was discovered by Juliet Ashton a writer in London in 1946, just as the country was emerging from the shadow of war. A correspondence is struck between Juliet and a residence of the island. Entranced by their stories, Juliet travels to Guernsey, and as they say, life was forever altered.

It is a history, a romance and the experience of reading about reading. And now you are reading about reading about reading.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff has a similar feel. It is the true story of a correspondence across the Atlantic between two bibliophiles which leads to romance. While not told in letter format, there is also The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, which introduces us to the reading tastes of no less than the Queen Elizabeth II herself when she stumbles upon a bookmobile parked at Buckingham Palace.

Speaking of books told in letter format, if you tend to look at library catalogue records, you will have noticed the subject heading Epistolary Fiction attached to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Epistolary fiction is book written in document format, rather than as straight prose. It is usually in the form of letters, but can be in diary, newspaper clipping etcetera. Follow the link to see a list of other books in the collection that are written in this style.

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