August 8, 2008
Nothing More Satisfying Than a Good Book
Just finished a new book last night, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I stayed up late reading and suffered my usual dilemma of finishing the book right then or waiting until I was more wide awake so I could fully appreciate everything I was reading. In the end, I couldn't resist reading it all. I'm not worried that I missed anything, because this is definitely a book I will read again.
Amazingly, given the current trend of my reading, this was not a children's or young adult book. It is a "grown-up" book which happens to be partially written by a very talented children's author, Annie Barrows. Barrows has written the Ivy and Bean series as well as a new book called The Magic Half. I met her briefly at the Book Passages conference when she happened to sit next to me at lunch. While I'd like to think that my magnetic writer personality drew her across the patio to chat with me, I think the fact that I was seated next to one of the only available chairs in the shade may have been the reason. Whatever. Annie didn't identify herself by name and it wasn't until one of the editors from Chronicle Books stopped to say hello to her that I realized who she was. She was talking (modestly) about NPR interviews, Washington Post Book Review interviews and "lay-down" dates, and then it dawned on me that she was involved with something larger than the world of children's book publishing.
First of all, a definition of lay-down date by Jon Kremer. I'd never heard this term before but it sounds as though all aspiring authors would want one. "Lay-Down Date: For major releases, publishers attempt to have books available in all retail outlets on the same date. This is known as the national Lay-Down Date." Another related tidbit about lay-down dates--they are always Tuesdays, but nobody quite knows why. The lay-down date for The Guernsey book was Tuesday, July 29.
The book is wonderful. It's an epistolary novel with more than a dozen letter writers--each with a distinct voice. What a challenge! Looking back through the novel some characters correspond with each other, others just receive or just send letters. Having multiple correspondents gives the book a very creative format. The subject matter is also fascinating. The primary setting is post World War II on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. I have to admit I was not too familiar with Guernsey but it was occupied by the Germans for five years during the war. This book tells the story of people living under siege, but it is so much more. The ways in which the community and the islander's lives were altered is both horrific and touching. The protagonist is a London author who becomes involved with the islanders through their letters as she conducts research for an article, and eventually comes to Guernsey to write her next novel.
A unique aspect of this book is that it was written by two women. The original manuscript was written by Annie Barrows's aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer. Shaffer became ill shortly after the book was sold and Barrows stepped in to help with revisions, research and editing. Shaffer died in May but she knew the book was about to be published. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was clearly a labor of love for both of these talented women, and a gift for all of its readers.