I love all kinds of books. Obviously. I love books about historical figures, magic, and religion. I love books about complicated people and difficult decisions. I love books about murder and mayhem, about terrible times in history and the people that were caught up in them. I love books about Kings and Queens and Duchesses.
But most of all I love books about books.
Books about books and a love of reading are the very best. I feel like each of these books help people to fall a little more in love with reading. And when everyone loves to (and can) read, the world will be a better place.
Books about books are a pretty select genre, if you will. But the ones that are out there are marvellous. I’m thinking of The Book Thief and The Shadow of the Wind or The Distant Hours and The Thirteenth Tale. All of these books, the first two in particular, are about a love of books; books and stories that provide comfort and hope in times of strife and hardship.
I just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows and and it is just such another of these books about books. One of the best.
Juliet Ashton is a writer and in 1946 she gets a letter from a gentleman living on one of the Channel Islands, Guernsey, asking her about her love of Charles Lamb. It turns out that he has in his possession one of her old books in which she had written her address. He mentions that he never thought he’d get to be a reader but during the War, he was invited to partake of an illicit roast pig with some neighbours and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was born.
Looking for a subject on which to write her next book Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the members of the Society and learns about what it was like for the Islanders during the War, occupied and completely cut off from all sources of news. All the children on the Island had been evacuated to the mainland and for five years, nothing was heard of them.
The characters in this book are a delight. There’s Dawsey, the man that writes to Juliet first – a quiet, hardworking man, who, because he never asks favours for himself, always manages to convince people to do things for others. Isola is a bossy, flighty thing, who has a treasure trove of letters from a well known author in her possession; when she finds out that no one in the Society thought to tell her about Jane Austen she is livid. I loved her. Little Kit is a tiny dictator whose mother was sent away by the Germans. All of the Islanders hope against hope that she will find her way back to them.
Juliet falls in love with all of them and with Guernsey and it’s only a matter of time before she goes to the Island to meet them all. The whole book is diary-style and this might be the only time I’ve enjoyed that. I was likely too distracted by all these unlikely readers falling in love with Wordsworth, the Brontes, Dickens and Austen. For this group of people, all but starving during the War, cut off from news, occupied by the enemy, reading was the one thing that took them outside of their reality.
It’s a wonderful book that will lift your spirits. I’m sad to have left them all on Guernsey but the time I did get to spend with them was a delight.
What’s your favourite book about books?