books, Reading, Women Writers

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


“The wonderful thing about books …is that they take us out of our time and place and understanding, and transport us not just into the world of the story, but into the world of our fellow readers, who have stories of their own.” – Annie Barrows

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books”, says one of the everyday sages of Guernsey. I wholeheartedly concur. I take my reading seriously and don’t suffer foolish books lightly. ‘Too many books, too little time’ is an adage for very good reason. I say this not regretfully; I think my book snobbery and my need to devote my limited time and brain to ‘worthy’ works has stood me well. The one downside that I begrudgingly acknowledge is that though I read many glorious, ambitious, notable books, they tend to come with an intellectual and, even more, an emotional weight that can at times be exhausting. How wonderful, then, to find this gem of a story.

Mary Ann Shaffer, with the anchor-leg help of niece Annie Barrows, shares a beautiful, epistolary novel about the people of Guernsey, a small island off the coast of England, at the end of World War II. Her writing is a true craft, her words flow with ease and grace, and her characters embody charisma. And the story itself! Well, this book is a solitary stroll through a field of wildflowers – quiet, charming, and heartwarming. This book is the kind of thing you can read on the beach while exercising your mind. Please excuse my squeeing, but really. Read it! Your spirit will thank you.

In spite of my bibliophilia, I don’t often read Afterwords, which tend to be more personal thank yous ala a boring Oscar speech instead of added insight upon author or story. The afterword in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a notable exception. Not only did it merit a read, it merits an excerpt. And so I end the squee with the words of niece and co-author Annie Barrows:

“[M]y family is rich in fine storytellers, by my aunt Mary Ann Shaffer was the jewel in our crown. What was it about Mary Ann turning a tale? She was one of the wittiest people I ever met, but wit wasn’t the essence of her gift. Her language was lustrous, her timing was exquisite, her delivery was a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but none of these reaches to the center of her charm. That, it seems to me, was her willingness to be delighted by people – their phrases, their frailties, and their fleeting moments of grandeur. Together with her delight was the impulse to share it; she told stories so that the rest of us, listening, could be delighted with her, and, time and again, she succeeded. … The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a testament to Mary Ann’s talent, to be sure, but in the truest way it’s also the embodiment of her generosity. In it she offers, for our enjoyment, a catalog of her delights – the oddities that enchanted her, the expressions that entertained her, and, above all, the books that she adored.”


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