Skip to main content


July 16, 2009

Annie Barrows: Literary Meandering

Posted by webmaster
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows 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. Today's guest blogger, Annie reveals what line spoken by the novel's character Juliet Ashton really resonates with her.

To read Annie's previous guest blog post, click here, and to watch a video of her talking about the novel, click here.

I am a natural born meanderer. When allowed to follow my own inclinations, I take the overgrown path, the long way around, the back stairs, the murky hallway, the door that leads to the wrong room, and the route through rather than around the woodpile. I also like tangents and people who don't get to the point. The results are sometimes alarming --- when the path is overgrown with poison oak, say --- and occasionally sublime. Most often, the reward is merely the feeling I have along the way, the feeling of possibility.

The meandering impulse must be heritable, because it runs in my family. Not all of us spend our lives traipsing down tree-throttled lanes. Some of us are literary meanderers: we find, in every book we read, dozens of threads --- names, events, dates, references to works we never heard of before --- that lure us onto our next book. My aunt Mary Ann Shaffer was a great literary meanderer, and our book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is, in some way, an ode to the joys of whimsical reading. Our heroine Juliet Ashton takes the words right out of my mouth when she says, "That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you on to a third book. It's geometrically progressive --- all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment."

Me too. I love that about reading too. All my reading life, my curiosity has been piqued from one book to another. Like Juliet, I found Charles Lamb through Leigh Hunt, but I found Leigh Hunt through Charles Dickens. When I was younger, I was very susceptible to pronouncements like "All truly refined people read Stendahl," and even now, I sometimes find myself in the middle of a seven-hundred-page tome on the Black Death and wonder how I got there, but in general, following the hints and clues dropped along the wayside by authors I adore has brought me to cobwebby, overlooked worlds that I would otherwise have missed. And, as a meanderer, I love cobwebby, overlooked worlds.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society itself is based on a meandering philosophy. Rather than reading one book as a group, each member reads a book of his or her choosing and then gives a talk about it, either praise or condemnation. Then the rest of the group can choose whether to pursue it or leave it alone. The Society's meetings are no more --- or less --- than a series of doors that its members may elect to open and, possibly, meander through.

---Annie Barrows