The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel

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“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the ...

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle Deluxe Reading Group Edition): A Novel

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Overview

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

As unique as its title, this novel consists of a series of letters between an inquisitive London author and several plucky survivors of the Nazi occupation of an English Channel island. This Discover Book selection has been a hardcover bestseller and a resilient backlist title in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

From the Publisher
“I can’t remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one, a world so vivid that I kept forgetting this was a work of fiction populated with characters so utterly wonderful that I kept forgetting they weren’t my actual friends and neighbors. Treat yourself to this book please—I can’t recommend it highly enough.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

“Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have written a wondrous, delightful, poignant book— part Jane Austen, part history lesson.  The letters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society aren't addressed to you, but they are meant for you.  It's a book everyone should read.  An absolute treasure.”—Sarah Addison Allen, author of Garden Spells

"A jewel...Poignant and keenly observed...A small masterpiece about love, war and the immeasurable sustenance to be found in good books and good friends."—People

"It's tempting to throw around terms like 'gem' when reading a book like this. But The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not precious...This is a book for firesides or long train rides. It's a charming and timeless as the novels for which its characters profess their love."—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“A book-lover's delight, an implicit and sometimes explicit paean to all things literary.”—Chicago Sun-Times

“I’ve never wanted to join a [book] club as desperately as I did while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society…. [The novel] is a labor of love, and it shows on almost every page.”–Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

"As the letters unfold, Juliet—and we readers—learn the little-known history of German occupation of Guernsey. We come to know the brave and endearing people who survived the hardships—and a few who did not....In addition to a fine story, this delightful book offers affirming messages about some of the most enduring forces in life—the power of the written word, the strength of the human spirit and the value of relationships, even unexpected ones."—Winston Salem Journal

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a sweet, sentimental paean to books and those who love them.... It affirms the power of books to nourish people enduring hard times."—Washington Post Book World

“Here's who will love this book: anyone who nods in profound agreement with the statement, "Reading keeps you from going gaga." The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delight. Tart, insightful and fun.”—Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow, A Thread of Grace and Dreamers of the Day

"[A] marvelous debut.... Reminiscent of Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road , this is a warm, funny, tender, and thoroughly entertaining celebration of the power of the written word."—Library Journal

“Charming…. [Heroine] Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as readers will.”—Publishers Weekly

"[ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is] a nifty little cloth whose warp is bibliophilia and whose weft is Anglophilia.... I could not put the book down. I have recommended it to all my friends."—Erica Marcus, Newsday

" A poignant, funny novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit.... This one is a treat."—Boston Globe

“A sure winner…. Elizabeth and Juliet are appealingly reminiscent of game but gutsy ’40s movie heroines.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Fast, fresh.... A perfect novel for adaptation by Masterpiece Theater."—Santa Cruz Sentinel

“Warm, life-affirming prose … an ideal choice for book groups, and also for individual readers.”—St. Petersburg Times

"Delightful ... One of those joyful books that celebrates how reading brings people together."—New Orleans Times-Picayune

“A book lover’s delight, an implicit and sometimes explicit paean to all things literary.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“I’ve never wanted to join a club so desperately as I did while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societ.…[The novel] is a labor of love and it shows on almost every page.” —Christian Science Monitor

Wendy Smith
Though it deals with a dark period in history, this first novel is an essentially sunny work. It affirms the power of books to nourish people enduring hard times—not so surprising, since Mary Ann Shaffer, who died earlier this year, had a long career as a librarian, bookseller and editor. Her niece Annie Barrows, a children's author, finished the manuscript after Shaffer fell ill; between them, they crafted a vivid epistolary novel whose characters spring to life in letters and telegrams exchanged over the course of nine months shortly after the end of World War II…You could be skeptical about the novel's improbabilities and its sanitized portrait of book clubs (doesn't anyone read trashy thrillers?), but you'd be missing the point. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a sweet, sentimental paean to books and those who love them.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Shaffer's debut novel, written with her niece Barrow, is an original account of one writer's relationship with a member of a unique book club formed as an alibi to protect its members from arrest at the hands of the Nazis during WWII. With a small cast of gifted narrators including Paul Boehmer, Susan Duerdan, John Lee, Rosalyn Landor and the enjoyable Juliet Mills, this production is first-class from top to bottom. The narrators' British dialects, each quite regional and equally as different as they are ear-pleasing, serve the story well and allow Shaffer's words to leap from the page into the hearts and minds of her listeners. The final result is an almost theatrical experience with a plethora of enthusiastic performances. A Dial Press hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 21).(July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Read LJ's 9/9/08 starred audio review of this debut title, currently a best seller in hardcover, which was recently optioned for film, at xpressreview.notlong.com.


—Staff
Kirkus Reviews
The German occupation of the Channel Islands, recalled in letters between a London reporter and an eccentric gaggle of Guernsey islanders. This debut by an "aunt-niece" authorial team presents itself as cozy fiction about comfortably quirky people in a bucolic setting, but it quickly evinces far more serious, and ambitious, intent. In 1946, Juliet, famous for her oxymoronic wartime humor column, is coping with life amid the rubble of London when she receives a letter from a reader, Dawsey, a Guernsey resident who asks her help in finding books by Charles Lamb. After she honors his request, a flurry of letters arrive from Guernsey islanders eager to share recollections of the German occupation of the islands. (Readers may be reminded of the PBS series, Island at War.) When the Germans catch some islanders exiting from a late-night pig roast, the group, as an excuse for violating curfew and food restrictions, invents a book club. The "Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" is born, affording Guernseyites an excuse to meet and share meager repasts. (The Germans have confiscated all the real food.) Juliet's fractious correspondents, including reputed witch Isola, Booker, a Jewish valet who masquerades as a Lord, and many other L&PPPS members, reveal that the absent founder of their society, Elizabeth, loved Christian, a German captain. No one accuses Elizabeth of collaboration (except one crotchety islander, Adelaide) because Christian was genuinely nice. An act of bravery caused Elizabeth's deportation to France, and her whereabouts remain unknown. The Society is raising four-year-old Kit, Elizabeth's daughter by Christian. To the consternation of her editor and friend, Sidney, Juliet isentertaining the overtures, literary and romantic, of a dashing but domineering New York publisher, Markham. When Juliet goes to Guernsey, some hard truths emerge about Elizabeth's fate and defiant courage. Elizabeth and Juliet are appealingly reminiscent of game but gutsy '40s movie heroines. The engrossing subject matter and lively writing make this a sure winner, perhaps fodder for a TV series. Agent: Liza Dawson/Liza Dawson Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385341004
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 19,822
  • Lexile: 930L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Ann Shaffer

Mary Ann Shaffer who passed away in February 2008, worked as an editor, librarian, and in bookshops. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was her first novel.

Biography

MARY ANN SHAFFER
In 1976, inspired by a newfound fascination with Guernsey, Mary Ann Shaffer traveled to the island in the English Channel, only to be stranded there due to inclement weather. Waiting for a thick fog to lift so she could return to London, Shaffer read all the books in the Guernsey airport bookstore. Jersey Under the Jack-Boot sparked a particular interest in the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

Years later, prompted by her book club to write a novel of her own, Shaffer turned to this subject in creating the vivid world of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Told entirely through a series of letters -- because, Shaffer confessed, "for some bizarre reason, I thought it would be easier" -- the novel skillfully renders the characters and concerns of Juliet, Sidney, and the other residents of Guernsey who have just emerged from the horrors and hardships of the Second World War.

Born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Mary Ann Shaffer made a career working with books -- as an editor, librarian, and bookseller -- before her death in February 2008. She died knowing that her novel was scheduled for publication and in the good hands of her niece and coauthor, Annie Barrows.

ANNIE BARROWS
A voracious reader (but an admittedly poor speller!), Annie Barrows grew up in northern California. One of her first jobs, while she was still in school, was re-shelving books in one of her favorite haunts, the public library. She attended the University of California at Berkeley and graduated with a degree in Medieval History. After graduation, she went to work for a publisher, editing books in many different fields.

Bitten by the writing bug, Barrows received her M.F.A in Creative Writing from California's Mills College. She wrote several books on such diverse topics as fortune telling, urban legends, and opera before branching into children's literature. In June of 2006, she released Ivy and Bean, the first award-winning book in a series about two young girls who become best friends in spite of their differences. In 2007, she published The Magic Half, a standalone children's fantasy about the middle child (between two sets of twins) who travels back in time and befriends a young girl in need of her help.

In addition, Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer, collaborated on a post-WWII epistolary novel entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Conceived by Shaffer, the novel was accepted for publication shortly before Shaffer fell ill. Barrows stepped in to complete the project, and the book was published in 2008 to positive reviews.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Martinsburg, West Virginia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 30, 2007

Read an Excerpt

Part One

8th January, 1946
Mr. Sidney Stark, Publisher
Stephens & Stark Ltd.
21 St. James's Place
London S.W.1
England

Dear Sidney,
Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food. Susan managed to procure ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue. If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring about the country. Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter? Let's try it—you may deduct the money from my royalties.

Now for my grim news. You asked me how work on my new book is progressing. Sidney, it isn't.

English Foibles seemed so promising at first. After all, one should be able to write reams about the Society to Protest the Glorification of the English Bunny. I unearthed a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators' Trade Union, marching down an Oxford street with placards screaming "Down with Beatrix Potter!" But what is there to write about after a caption? Nothing, that's what.

I no longer want to write this book—my head and my heart just aren't in it. Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is—and was—to me, I don't want to write anything else under that name. I don't want to be considered a light-hearted journalist anymore. I do acknowledge that making readers laugh—or at least chuckle—during the war was no mean feat, but I don't want to do it anymore. I can't seem to dredge up any sense of proportion or balance these days, and God knows one cannot write humor without them.
In the meantime, I am very happy Stephens & Stark is making money on Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War. It relieves my conscience over the debacle of my Anne Bront biography.

My thanks for everything and love,
Juliet

P.S. I am reading the collected correspondence of Mrs. Montagu. Do you know what that dismal woman wrote to Jane Carlyle? "My dear little Jane, everybody is born with a vocation, and yours is to write charming little notes." I hope Jane spat on her.

From Sidney to Juliet
10th January, 1946
Miss Juliet Ashton
23 Glebe Place
Chelsea
London S.W. 3

Dear Juliet:
Congratulations! Susan Scott said you took to the audience at the luncheon like a drunkard to rum—and they to you—so please stop worrying about your tour next week. I haven't a doubt of your success. Having witnessed your electrifying performance of "The Shepherd Boy Sings in the Valley of Humiliation" eighteen years ago, I know you will have every listener coiled around your little finger within moments. A hint: perhaps in this case, you should refrain from throwing the book at the audience when you finish.

Susan is looking forward to ushering you through bookshops from Bath to Yorkshire. And of course, Sophie is agitating for an extension of the tour into Scotland. I've told her in my most infuriating older-brother manner that It Remains To Be Seen. She misses you terribly, I know, but Stephens & Stark must be impervious to such considerations.

I've just received Izzy's sales figures from London and the Home Counties—they are excellent. Again, congratulations!

Don't fret about English Foibles; better that your enthusiasm died now than after six months spent writing about bunnies. The crass commercial possibilities of the idea were attractive, but I agree that the topic would soon grow horribly fey. Another subject—one you'll like—will occur to you.

Dinner one evening before you go? Say when.

Love,
Sidney

P.S. You write charming little notes.

From Juliet to Sidney
11th January, 1946

Dear Sidney,

Yes, lovely—can it be somewhere on the river? I want oysters and champagne and roast beef, if obtainable; if not, a chicken will do. I am very happy that Izzy's sales are good. Are they good enough that I don't have to pack a bag and leave London?

Since you and S&S have turned me into a moderately successful author, dinner must be my treat.

Love,
Juliet

P.S. I did not throw "The Shepherd Boy Sings in the Valley of Humiliation" at the audience. I threw it at the elocution mistress. I meant to cast it at her feet, but I missed.

From Juliet to Sophie Strachan
12th January, 1946
Mrs. Alexander Strachan
Feochan Farm by Oban Argyll

Dear Sophie,
Of course I'd adore to see you, but I am a soul-less, will-less automaton. I have been ordered by Sidney to Bath, Colchester, Leeds, and several other garden spots I can't recall at the moment, and I can't just slither off to Scotland instead. Sidney's brow would lower—his eyes would narrow—he would stalk. You know how nerve-racking it is when Sidney stalks.

I wish I could sneak away to your farm and have you coddle me. You'd let me put my feet on the sofa, wouldn't you? And then you'd tuck blankets around me and bring me tea? Would Alexander mind a permanent resident on his sofa? You've told me he is a patient man, but perhaps he would find it annoying.

Why am I so melancholy? I should be delighted at the prospect of reading Izzy to an entranced audience. You know how I love talking about books, and you know how I adore receiving compliments. I should be thrilled. But the truth is that I'm gloomy—gloomier than I ever was during the war. Everything is so broken, Sophie: the roads, the buildings, the people. Especially the people.

This is probably the aftereffect of a horrid dinner party I went to last night. The food was ghastly, but that was to be expected. It was the guests who unnerved me—they were the most demoralizing collection of individuals I've ever encountered. The talk was of bombs and starvation. Do you remember Sarah Morecroft? She was there, all bones and gooseflesh and bloody lipstick. Didn't she use to be pretty? Wasn't she mad for that horse-riding fellow who went up to Cambridge? He was nowhere in evidence; she's married to a doctor with grey skin who clicks his tongue before he speaks. And he was a figure of wild romance compared to my dinner partner, who just happened to be a single man, presumably the last one on earth—oh Lord, how miserably mean-spirited I sound!

I swear, Sophie, I think there's something wrong with me. Every man I meet is intolerable. Perhaps I should set my sights lower—not so low as the grey doctor who clicks, but a bit lower. I can't even blame it on the war—I was never very good at men, was I?

Do you suppose the St. Swithin's furnace-man was my one true love? Since I never spoke to him, it seems unlikely, but at least it was a passion unscathed by disappointment. And he had that beautiful black hair. After that, you remember, came the Year of Poets. Sidney's quite snarky about those poets, though I don't see why, since he introduced me to them. Then poor Adrian. Oh, there's no need to recite the dread rolls to you, but Sophie—what is the matter with me? Am I too particular? I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with.

What a dreadful, complaining letter. You see? I've succeeded in making you feel relieved that I won't be stopping in Scotland. But then again, I may—my fate rests with Sidney.

Kiss Dominic for me and tell him I saw a rat the size of a terrier the other day.

Love to Alexander and even more to you,
Juliet

From Dawsey Adams, Guernsey, Channel Islands, to Juliet
12th January, 1946
Miss Juliet Ashton
81 Oakley Street
Chelsea
London S.W. 3

Dear Miss Ashton,
My name is Dawsey Adams, and I live on my farm in St. Martin's Parish on Guernsey. I know of you because I have an old book that once belonged to you—the Selected Essays of Elia, by an author whose name in real life was Charles Lamb. Your name and address were written inside the front cover.

I will speak plain—I love Charles Lamb. My own book says Selected, so I wondered if that meant he had written other things to choose from? These are the pieces I want to read, and though the Germans are gone now, there aren't any bookshops left on Guernsey.

I want to ask a kindness of you. Could you send me the name and address of a bookshop in London? I would like to order more of Charles Lamb's writings by post. I would also like to ask if anyone has ever written his life story, and if they have, could a copy be found for me? For all his bright and turning mind, I think Mr. Lamb must have had a great sadness in his life.

Charles Lamb made me laugh during the German Occupation, especially when he wrote about the roast pig. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being because of a roast pig we had to keep secret from the German soldiers, so I feel a kinship to Mr. Lamb.

I am sorry to bother you, but I would be sorrier still not to know about him, as his writings have made me his friend.

Hoping not to trouble you,
Dawsey Adams

P.S. My friend Mrs. Maugery bought a pamphlet that once belonged to you, too. It is called Was There a Burning Bush? A Defense of Moses and the Ten Commandments. She liked your margin note, "Word of God or crowd control???" Did you ever decide which?

From Juliet to Dawsey
15th January, 1946
Mr. Dawsey Adams
Les Vauxlarens
La Bouree
St. Martin's, Guernsey

Dear Mr. Adams,
I no longer live on Oakley Street, but I'm so glad that your letter found me and that my book found you. It was a sad wrench to part with the Selected Essays of Elia. I had two copies and a dire need of shelf-room, but I felt like a traitor selling it. You have soothed my conscience.

I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.

Because there is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops, I went at once to Hastings & Sons upon receiving your letter. I have gone to them for years, always finding the one book I wanted—and then three more I hadn't known I wanted. I told Mr. Hastings you would like a good, clean copy (and not a rare edition) of More Essays of Elia. He will send it to you by separate post (invoice enclosed) and was delighted to know you are also a lover of Charles Lamb. He said the best biography of Lamb was by E. V. Lucas, and he would hunt out a copy for you, though it may take a while.

In the meantime, will you accept this small gift from me? It is his Selected Letters. I think it will tell you more about him than any biography ever could. E. V. Lucas sounds too stately to include my favorite passage from Lamb: "Buz, buz, buz, bum, bum, bum, wheeze, wheeze, wheeze, fen, fen, fen, tinky, tinky, tinky, cr'annch! I shall certainly come to be condemned at last. I have been drinking too much for two days running. I find my moral sense in the last stage of a consumption and my religion getting faint." You'll find that in the Letters (it's on page 244). They were the first Lamb I ever read, and I'm ashamed to say I only bought the book because I'd read elsewhere that a man named Lamb had visited his friend Leigh Hunt, in prison for libeling the Prince of Wales.

While there, Lamb helped Hunt paint the ceiling of his cell sky blue with white clouds. Next they painted a rose trellis up one wall. Then, I further discovered, Lamb offered money to help Hunt's family outside the prison—though he himself was as poor as a man could be. Lamb also taught Hunt's youngest daughter to say the Lord's Prayer backward. You naturally want to learn everything you can about a man like that.

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 onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

The red stain on the cover that looks like blood—is blood. I got careless with my paper knife. The enclosed postcard is a reproduction of a painting of Lamb by his friend William Hazlitt.

If you have time to correspond with me, could you answer several questions? Three, in fact. Why did a roast pig dinner have to be kept a secret? How could a pig cause you to begin a literary society? And, most pressing of all, what is a potato peel pie—and why is it included in your society's name?

I have sub-let a flat at 23 Glebe Place, Chelsea, London S.W.3. My Oakley Street flat was bombed in 1945 and I still miss it. Oakley Street was wonderful—I could see the Thames out of three of my windows. I know that I am fortunate to have any place at all to live in London, but I much prefer whining to counting my blessings. I am glad you thought of me to do your Elia hunting.

Yours sincerely,
Juliet Ashton

P.S. I never could make up my mind about Moses—it still bothers me.

From Juliet to Sidney
18th January, 1946

Dear Sidney,
This isn't a letter: it's an apology. Please forgive my moaning about the teas and luncheons you set up for Izzy. Did I call you a tyrant? I take it all back—I love Stephens & Stark for sending me out of London.

Bath is a glorious town: lovely crescents of white, upstanding houses instead of London's black, gloomy buildings or—worse still—piles of rubble that were once buildings. It is bliss to breathe in clean, fresh air with no coal smoke and no dust. The weather is cold, but it isn't London's dank chill. Even the people on the street look different—upstanding, like their houses, not grey and hunched like Londoners.

Susan said the guests at Abbot's book tea enjoyed themselves immensely—and I know I did. I was able to un-stick my tongue from the roof of my mouth after the first two minutes and began to have quite a good time.

Susan and I are off tomorrow for bookshops in Colchester, Norwich, King's Lynn, Bradford, and Leeds.

Love and thanks,
Juliet

From Juliet to Sidney
21st January, 1946
Dear Sidney,

Night-time train travel is wonderful again! No standing in the corridors for hours, no being shunted off for a troop train to pass, and above all, no black-out curtains. All the windows we passed were lighted, and I could snoop once more. I missed it so terribly during the war. I felt as if we had all turned into moles scuttling along in our separate tunnels. I don't consider myself a real peeper—they go in for bedrooms, but it's families in sitting rooms or kitchens that thrill me. I can imagine their entire lives from a glimpse of bookshelves, or desks, or lit candles, or bright sofa cushions.

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Introduction

Celebrating literature, love, and the power of the human spirit, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of an English author living in the shadow of World War II—and embarking on a writing project that will dramatically change her life. Unfolding in a series of letters, this enchanting novel introduces readers to the indomitable Juliet Ashton. Through Juliet’s correspondence with her publisher, best friend, and an absorbing cast of characters, readers discover that despite the personal losses she suffered in the Blitz, and author tours sometimes marked by mishaps, nothing can quell her enthusiasm for the written word. One day, she begins a different sort of correspondence, responding to a man who found her name on the flyleaf of a cherished secondhand book. He tells her that his name is Dawsey Adams, a native resident of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands recently liberated from Nazi occupation. Soon Juliet is drawn into Dawsey’s remarkable circle of friends, courageous men and women who formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a cover to protect them from the Germans. With their appetite for good books, and their determination to honor the island’s haunting recent history, this is a community that opens Juliet’s heart and mind in ways she could never have imagined.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. We hope they will enrich your experience of this captivating novel.

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Foreword

1. What was it like to read a novel composed entirely of letters? What do letters offer that no other form of writing (not even emails) can convey?

2. What makes Sidney and Sophie ideal friends for Juliet? What common ground do they share? Who has been a similar advocate in your life?

3. Dawsey first wrote to Juliet because books, on Charles Lamb or otherwise, were so difficult to obtain on Guernsey in the aftermath of the war. What differences did you note between bookselling in the novel and bookselling in your world? What makes book lovers unique, across all generations?

4. What were your first impressions of Dawsey? How was he different from the other men Juliet had known?

5. Discuss the poets, novelists, biographers, and other writers who capture the hearts of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What does a reader’s taste in books say about his or her personality? Whose lives were changed the most by membership in the society?

6. Juliet occasionally receives mean-spirited correspondence from strangers, accusing both Elizabeth and Juliet of being immoral. What accounts for their judgmental ways?

7. In what ways were Juliet and Elizabeth kindred spirits? What did Elizabeth’s spontaneous invention of the society, as well as her brave final act, say about her approach to life?

8. Numerous Guernsey residents give Juliet access to their private memories of the occupation. Which voices were most memorable for you? What was the effect of reading a variety of responses to a shared tragedy?

9. Kit and Juliet complete each other in many ways. What did they need from each other? What qualities makeJuliet an unconventional, excellent mother?

10. How did Remy’s presence enhance the lives of those on Guernsey? Through her survival, what recollections, hopes, and lessons also survived?

11. Juliet rejects marriage proposals from a man who is a stereotypical “great catch.” How would you have handled Juliet’s romantic entanglement? What truly makes someone a “great catch”?

12. What was the effect of reading a novel about an author’s experiences with writing, editing, and getting published? Did this enhance the book’s realism, though Juliet’s experience is a bit different from that of debut novelist Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, children’s book author Annie Barrows?

13. What historical facts about life in England during World War II were you especially surprised to discover? What traits, such as remarkable stamina, are captured in a detail such as potato peel pie? In what ways does fiction provide a means for more fully understanding a non-fiction truth?

14. Which of the members of the Society is your favorite? Whose literary opinions are most like your own?

15. Do you agree with Isola that “reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones”?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. What was it like to read a novel composed entirely of letters? What do letters offer that no other form of writing (not even emails) can convey?

2. What makes Sidney and Sophie ideal friends for Juliet? What common ground do they share? Who has been a similar advocate in your life?

3. Dawsey first wrote to Juliet because books, on Charles Lamb or otherwise, were so difficult to obtain on Guernsey in the aftermath of the war. What differences did you note between bookselling in the novel and bookselling in your world? What makes book lovers unique, across all generations?

4. What were your first impressions of Dawsey? How was he different from the other men Juliet had known?

5. Discuss the poets, novelists, biographers, and other writers who capture the hearts of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What does a reader’s taste in books say about his or her personality? Whose lives were changed the most by membership in the society?

6. Juliet occasionally receives mean-spirited correspondence from strangers, accusing both Elizabeth and Juliet of being immoral. What accounts for their judgmental ways?

7. In what ways were Juliet and Elizabeth kindred spirits? What did Elizabeth’s spontaneous invention of the society, as well as her brave final act, say about her approach to life?

8. Numerous Guernsey residents give Juliet access to their private memories of the occupation. Which voices were most memorable for you? What was the effect of reading a variety of responses to a shared tragedy?

9. Kit and Juliet complete each other in many ways. What did they need from each other? What qualities make Juliet an unconventional, excellent mother?

10. How did Remy’s presence enhance the lives of those on Guernsey? Through her survival, what recollections, hopes, and lessons also survived?

11. Juliet rejects marriage proposals from a man who is a stereotypical “great catch.” How would you have handled Juliet’s romantic entanglement? What truly makes someone a “great catch”?

12. What was the effect of reading a novel about an author’s experiences with writing, editing, and getting published? Did this enhance the book’s realism, though Juliet’s experience is a bit different from that of debut novelist Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, children’s book author Annie Barrows?

13. What historical facts about life in England during World War II were you especially surprised to discover? What traits, such as remarkable stamina, are captured in a detail such as potato peel pie? In what ways does fiction provide a means for more fully understanding a non-fiction truth?

14. Which of the members of the Society is your favorite? Whose literary opinions are most like your own?

15. Do you agree with Isola that “reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones”?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2432 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1369)

4 Star

(666)

3 Star

(230)

2 Star

(84)

1 Star

(83)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 2435 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 19, 2008

    A treasure and a gift...a rare gem.

    I am an avid reader and this is one of the best and most touching books I've ever read. The story's set at the end of WWII in England and Guernsey and it's written as a series of letters and telegrams between characters (well done). You must read this book. You will laugh, you will cry, you will grow to love these people and once finished, you will feel enriched for having come to know them while simultaneously mourning the end of your relationship with them. This is a book to keep, to treasure, to give to friends and loved ones and to read again and again. Is is too soon to ask for more?

    58 out of 61 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2008

    I loved this book!

    This was such a charming group of charectors that by the end of the book, I felt like I knew each one of them so well and I wished they were real. The style of the book being in letters was, initially, a little awkward. It gave me a greater appreciation for the lost art of letter writing. A really good story.

    37 out of 40 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2009

    Disappointing

    My book group read this book. I found it too light going and, frankly, trite. It is hard for me to read fiction of any sort, but I thought with the historical connection to the German occupation of Guernsey, there would be a compelling story line that I could find gripping. I kept waiting for it to improve and when I reached the end and it had not, I felt somewhat cheated by the glowing reviews I had read before starting the book. It is an easy read, but too easy. Now only three days after finishing it, I am having trouble remembering all of the characters -- NOT a good sign. I would not recommend it. Sorry.

    24 out of 63 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    INTERESTING READ!

    Having read the overwhelming number of 5 star reviews, I had to buy this book! I'm so glad I did! The unique and original presentation through nothing more than letters was a perfect and unique method to get every character's point of view effectively. This is such a charming novel full of drama, sadness, humor, serious trauma,perserverence,tolerance, and all facets of love and relationships. Juliet, a writer, is immersed in each diverse character's inspiring story, some in dire circumstances with the horrific occupation of their island by the Germans. This was a pleasure and a joy to read! just beautifully done! Well worth your time! Some other FAVORITES OF MINE...BELOW

    19 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2010

    Absolutely brilliant!

    My friend lent me this book to read, literally screaming its praises to the moon. Admittedly, I only took it to please her; I was wary, from the looks of the cover, title, and setting, that I would find it too "cutesy". The fact that the book is written in letters threw me off a bit, as well. Alas, I was wrong; very, very wrong. Once I started The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I could not put it down. It's wholesome and traditional, but never childlike; never naive. This book carries a riveting edge with it. The main character, Juliet Ashton, has a biting, witty sense of humor that you can't help but fall in love with. And the characters -- oh!, the characters! My God, are they brilliant. Buy this book! It will become a well-worn companion.

    15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    THE LOST ART OF LETTER WRITING...

    Though I had heard, of course, of the Channel Islands and Jersey and Guernsey, I never knew much about them, nor had I been curious to learn more. That has changed for me. And I had had no idea that Guernsey had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II, or that its inhabitants had been treated as harshly as those in any small town in France, Belgium and Holland that had fallen in the path of the Germany army.<BR/>The story is told in the form of a series of letters. I can recall this format being used successfully only twice in the past: In A WOMAN OF INDEPENDENT MEANS as well as in 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD. (In fact, there are a number of similarities between the latter and THE GUERNSEY... SOCIETY. Each book deals, in part, with World War II London and all this implies in terms of rationing and the Blitz, and also with the overlapping worlds of book-publishing and book selling.) The book also contains overtones of that much-loved BBC comedy, THE VICAR OF DIBLEY.<BR/>The plot begins innocently enough, describing town life on a small British island. Yet with as many layers as a large onion, the obvious surface keeps being peeled back to reveal ever more complicated and disturbing information.<BR/>To mention all of the many themes addressed, then, would read like a list. Suffice it to say that love and romance are included, but also the worst human depravity in history, the way in which the Nazis treated their victims. Even in this bestiality, however, the authors -- like poor Anne Frank -- were able to see some good and some beauty inherent in the human race. <BR/>A good read, highly recommended.

    15 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful story told through letters that make the characters come alive

    This is one of the best books I've read this year. It's a rich story with interesting and well-developed characters, all told through letters mostly written to and from the main character of the book, Juliet. I did not realize it was a book of letters when I bought the book, so when I started reading the first few pages, I thought I would be disappointed. But the letters make the story come alive, as you discover things about the people in the book. Juliet is an author in post WWII England, who was assigned to write an article about the benefits of reading. She had a column during WWII in which she wrote under a pen name and ridiculed the war. As she was researching her article, she discovered that people on the island of Guernsey had created The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society during the German occupation of the island during WWII. She corresponds by mail with the members of the society, and travels to the island from London. Through her letters with the society members, and letters back and forth with Sidney, her publisher, and other friends, you learn about the joys and tragedies of the people on Guernsey during the German occupation. And you also get to know Juliet's hopes and dreams. I highly recommend this beautifully written book!

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Fabulous Story

    This is a great story. I have recommended it to all my reading buddies and family. The story is so well done. Having enjoyed it so much I went searching for additional novels by the author and discovered this was her one and only and she didn't completely finish it by herself. It did explain why there was a small change in writing style towards the end of the book. The author was too ill to make the changes requested by the editor so her niece made the changes for her.

    I loved the main chacater and found myself wishing that I could have known her and been friends with her. This is such a wonderful story and is so well done, you will not regret spending one second on it.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2009

    Love this Book!

    This is an excellent read. I loved the characters and their stories. A must read for a vacation or on a cold rainy day!!

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2010

    What A Beautiful Book!

    As a 7th grade girl, I sometimes find it hard to locate books that AREN'T about vampires, vampires, zombies, etc. However, I was in luck when I found this book! It really was beautifully written, and I adored the format of letters. Books written entirely in correspondence tend to have a more friendly feel to them, which was exactly what I was looking for.

    If you enjoyed this book, also check out "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana deRosnay.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I fell in love in Guernsey

    I originally picked up this book because the title caught my eye. I thought it was such an original and odd title that I just had to purchase it. Then I went to read it and realized it was written competely in letters between the characters and thought I wasn't sure I was going to like this. Well, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. It took maybe a few pages to get into reading in a letter format, but once you get to know who is writing the letters, you can't put this book down! I, like Juliet, found that I felt that I knew the inhabitants of Guernsey through their letters. And being a lover of books myself, appreciated how such a friendship between Juliet and Dawsey could form without having set eyes on each other or heard one another's voice. But, once Juliet sets foot on the island, the characters come to life and the story just gets more and more wonderful. The most fascinating character by far is one that doesn't even write a letter. Elizabeth lives through the letters of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society which she created on the spot to explain away the predicament they are found in when caught by the Nazis after curfew. This book truly helped me to understand what these characters may have felt while living under the Nazi occupation during WWII. And what I felt was hope, determination and a formidable spirit to go on. I can understand how Juliet fell in love with the characters on Guernsey, because I did as well. The only problem I had with this book, was that it had to end.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2009

    An absolute delight!

    Until this book was chosen as one of our book club selections, I intentionally avoided it as one of the plethora of books in the food+ some sort of literary group in the title books. Once chosen, I had no choice. I had just finished reading Team of Rivals which was also wonderful...but what a tome!
    Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is written in a format I like very much; the entire book is composed of letters back and forth between and among the main characters. The author uses this technique to keep up the pace and the interest in her novel.
    The story is framed with a light-hearted, whimsical narrator but sandwiches an intriguing bit of WWII history in between. Each newly introduced character's personality, beliefs, values, and character is revealed by their own hand in the style and content of their letters.
    This was just a delightful, quick read that I wanted to immediately read again once I'd finished. Upon finishing I went at once to my email and recommended that all my friends (reader friends) drop everything and go get a copy and lock themselves away with it. I've also given it as a gift and plan to give it again.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2010

    Book in letters

    I found it hard to get into this book at first. Reading letters seemed tedious and I almost put it down for good. But for some reason I kept picking it up and then I eventually got hooked.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2010

    A Heartwarming Read

    If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be delightful. I found myself wishing I could be a part of this group of friends.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    GREAT READ!

    Historical fiction that pulls you in and keeps you guessing the whole time. Loved it!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Audio Book made an 8 hr car ride very enjoyable! fantastico!

    The characters of this car ride:

    Myself: a young woman in late 20's who reads mostly social political non-fiction or high-brow or quirky/satirical literature.

    My mum: a woman in her early 60's who reads time magazine, the news, and enjoys memoirs.

    My stepfather: an evil lobbyist with a good soul, who reads books about religion, law, and history. I seriously doubt that he's ever read a novel.

    And somehow, we were all brought together giggling at the same parts of the book,

    The scene: a long 8 hour road trip after the holidays. We got into the car, and my stepfather gave 6 choices for creating an audioscape. an audiobook on the early church; an audiobook on a boring aspect of the civil war; motown hits. I would have chosen motown, but i had my ipod ready for action- and probably would have put on hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy for a bit. However, my mum had just received the Potato Peel Pie audiobook... and despite uniting my stepfather's and my groans, i never once put my ipod on.

    If anything, i asked for the volume to be turned up and sank into the story and the characters.

    the audiotape was truly marvelous: it had the three of us giggling at parts, discussing the german occupation of Guernsey, and all three of us discussing the love life of our narrator and rooting for a certain fella.

    Truly a marvelous experience.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very Different

    It's like nothing I have ever read before - comprised entirely of letters from among the various characters. It is a very different, but very moving story. I would highly recommend it. It would also be a wonderful choice for bookclubs. The paperback had a built in readers guide in the back with thought provoking questions included.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2011

    My new favorite book!

    I loved this book and was sad when it ended. I listened to the audio version; the readers did a wonderful job. I don't usually like books written in a letter setting but this works! It is a good history lesson without being too heavy, and the authors have a delightful sense of humor.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2009

    GREAT BOOK

    Best read I've come across in about 5 years. Loved this book!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2009

    I loved reading this book and have enjoying sharing it with Friends

    This is a book I wasn't sure I would enjoy, until I read a few pages and then had a difficult time putting it down to live my own life. Those friends who I have shared the book with have also enjoyed reading it with the same exprience. It is a book that opens hearts and teaches life lessons.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 2435 Customer Reviews

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