My recent reading of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows has prompted me to write this post. In this piece of historical fiction, you are invited into the world of post-WWII Guernsey, an island centered in the English Channel off the coasts of France and England. Frankly, before reading this novel, I'd never really thought about Guernsey. But, while reading this book and after finishing it, I'm wondering if I'll ever get the opportunity to visit this magical-seeming spot.
I initially bought this book as the March read for a local book club that I belong to. This book club is comprised of about eleven or twelve women who are currently teaching in our school district or who have retired from teaching in it. We've been "together" for about six years and have read a whole host of titles in that time. This book was not one that I proposed, as I thought it sounded a bit cheesy. However, it seemed like a bit of a fun read and also met the criteria for the Bibliophilic Book Challenge, so I ordered the book and read it over my February vacation.
As quaint as the title sounds, there is a whole lot of meat in this novel. I loved the structure of it--completely told in letters written back and forth between the main character, Juliet, and her friends and strangers. With this structure, I felt truly transported to another place in time, where "snail" mail was the only true way to communicate with people and waiting on letters in the mailbox meant more than watching your email inbox for a quick memo or something.
In this novel, Juliet is a writer during and after the Nazi occupation of Europe. She lives in a bombed-but-not-broken London, but is lucky enough to receive a letter from a man living on the island of Guernsey who's looking for a book. This connection leads to all sorts of other threads, but primarily serves to lead Juliet to discover the subject of her next book. I won't talk too much about the subject, but I will remind you that I now having a huge desire to visit Guernsey and meet all sorts of fictional characters who I've grown to love.
More than just satisfying a requirement for a challenge or for my book club, reading this book made me think about the many book clubs I belong to and have created. Hearing about all of the mismatched personalities who made up the roster of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society made me think about the people I've met and the books I've read that I never would have been acquainted with if not for the book club. I truly don't think that I would've read this title had it not been the title for March 2010. What else would I not have read over the past six years?
A list of books I've loved but don't think I would've read if not for this book club:
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan
These four titles are the first that come to mind. I'm sure that there are others that I've read and enjoyed only because they were assigned to me. Now, I belong to several book clubs, all with different themes. So, what is the lesson that I've learned in all book club-ery? I've learned that it's important to talk about books I'm reading. I understand more about plot and character when I have the opportunity to listen to others who've read the same book. I've learned that time spent reading a book that I don't necessarily like is not time wasted. I've also learned that it is okay to put down a book that I hate and not feel pressure to read it all the way through. I read 100 or so pages and if it's not for me, I still go to the meeting and listen and share, but there's no guilt!
More importantly, this one six-year-and-counting book club has bonded me to people whom I would have never met if not for the club. My life has been forever changed by these amazing women and I am excited every month when we all carve out a small space in our busy schedules to make time to chat about a book and whatever else happens to come up in conversation. Thanks, ladies!
I'll post about other book clubs and implications for classroom practice in future posts. Stay tuned!