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September 29, 2008

Annie Barrows: Going to Guernsey

Posted by carol
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has struck a chord with book clubs. Annie Barrows' novel, told through letters, unfolds the story of a group of residents on the English Channel island of Guernsey, who formed a book club as an alibi while the isle was occupied by Nazis during World War II. To read the review, click here, and to watch a video of Annie Barrows talking about the novel, click here.

Today's guest blogger, Annie shares reactions from readers, why you shouldn't make potato peel pie, and how you can keep a book going after you've read the last page.

Like many readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I want to go to a Society meeting. I want to sit in Clovis and Nancy Fossey's living room --- with spillover into the kitchen --- and argue about Wuthering Heights and Seneca. I want to chat with Dawsey and Isola. I used to want a piece of potato peel pie, but then I had one, so I don't want that anymore.

I have received many, many letters from readers all over the world bemoaning the fact that the book comes to an end. "I wanted it to go on forever," they say. "I want to go to Guernsey and join a book club." "I want to be a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." And the answer is Yes. As long as we don't get too caught up in the space-time continuum, the book does still go on, every time a reader talks about it with another reader. The membership of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society increases each time the book is read and enjoyed. The wonderful thing about books --- and the thing that made them such a refuge for the islanders during the Occupation --- is that they take you out of your time and place and transport you, not just into the world of the story, but into the world of your fellow-readers, who have stories of their own.

In the last six weeks, the weeks since the book was published, I have heard from readers who were reminded of their own wartime experiences. One Guernsey native told me of his evacuation to England, along with hundreds of other children, the week before the Germans invaded. The most thrilling moment, he said, was his first glimpse of a black cow. He hadn't known cows came in black. Another woman, a child in Germany during the war, told of bringing food to the French soldier hiding in her attic --- she was the only member of the family small enough to squeeze through the trapdoor.

It's not all war-stories, though. I've heard from people who want to know if Isaac Bickerstaffe is real (yes) and people who want to make potato peel pie (don't do it!) and people who want to read another book written in letters (Daddy Long Legs). Mostly, though, I've heard from people who are happy because they enjoyed the book.

This, it seems to me, is the new version of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Its members are spread all over the world, but they are joined by their love of books, of talking about books, and of their fellow readers. We are transformed --- magically --- into a book club each time we pass a book along, each time we ask a question about it, each time we exclaim, "Oh, I loved that book!" when we see someone else reading it, each time we say "If you liked that, I bet you'd like this." Reading joins us into a motley, sometimes argumentative club --- and what could be better than that?

---Annie Barrows