in 2009 our book club read a book- a really really good book! The book was highly recommended by a well respected member, maybe two...I struggle to recall the details of selection meetings but am very fond of them. It was a book that everyone really really enjoyed reading. The history, connection to a book club and the numerous literary mentions, the characters, the letter format and writing was all really lovely. The ending was a bit of struggle for some of us I remember the discussion. For some it felt as if a decision had to be made on how to wrap it all up and so they came up a with a tidy ending. But it didn't change the fact it was a wonderful read.
Some of the readers were quite intrigued with the involvement of two authors. The story as I recall is that the original author became ill and required help with the finishing the book. In my mind I blamed the 2nd author- the original author's niece- with the bumpy ending. However I was pleased the book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published and could be shared and part of our book club's reading history.
The story now jumps to 2013 and selection night for the 2013-14 year. The dates- always the first Monday of the month are on the poster board waiting their assigned book for discussion. A number of years ago we dabbled with Tuesdays to try to accommodate full schedules but the standard day, set location made it easier for all and less to remember. One of the champions of "Guernsey Potato Peel Society Book" as I refer to it had news to share- Annie Barrows- the 2nd author, the niece, would be in Westerville for a Westerville Library Talk on the 1st Monday of October, the 1st Monday of book club....To me it was a no brainer- we didn't schedule a meeting and we advocated for those that could attend to do so! I made my reservation that evening. What I hadn't known was Ms. Barrows is also the author of beloved children's books- the Ivy and Bean series which are wonderful and loved by Sally and her peers!
And now I sit at my writing desk, my great grandfather's desk, with a cup of tea and prepare to reflect and share with you the stories I heard at "An Evening with Annie Barrows", presented by the Westerville Public Library.
I'll share that I enjoyed my evening so very much and am grateful to Robin for encouraging us to attend. A prior blog shared the advice I value- get tickets- as once you have tickets you are less likely to cancel. Tickets provide time the luxury of a date- even in this case when it was with just myself- a lovely glimpse into my post college years. I enjoyed the radio talk shows during the car ride and observing my fellow bibliophiles making their way to their seats. In fact at one point the facilitator approached the microphone early creating a process to assist book clubs in finding their members to sit together.
Ms. Barrows began with a story, a story of an attempt to find a way to connect with her Columbus, Ohio audience. She became the character of her mother assisting with this challenge by reciting entertaining dialogue that made us all laugh. It also showcased this family's passion and love for stories part of the "why" and "how" of the "Guernsey" book. I love these talks - I love to understand how a book and story come to be- today I now understand and appreciate my yearning a little more.
Ms. Barrows shared the belief that storie compose our communities, that the desire to narrate history is a humanizing impulse we have and it unites us. Her family's personalities continued to delight us and gave us the birth of the "Guersney" book- a writers group. A writers group that encouraged and supported and asked for more....Mary Ann Shaffer produced a few pages that started the story that turned into a book, that secured an agent that was sought after by 12 publishers. A story that was first published in Denmark. A story that was almost was prevented because of an illness, but the author asked the next generation with the gift of writing to carry on and she did. She did because she knew her aunt's voice and articulation and she took the time to learn the story that became the book. She used her talent and brought it to press. The ending was theirs and I value this book and story so much more!
Ohhh how fun it was to sit in that auditorium tonight and learn about these women that write, that take an idea, a history, a story and craft it into pages that take us away. For "Potato Peel (my mother's nickname for it) we went to Guernsey - an island in the English Channel. I knew the name but didn't know where it was until I read the book. Annie Barrows told us more about it tonight- her own visits allow her to state that it is very nice- it is warm, it really is more France than English- its Norman not given back- the food is wonderful and they speak English! Mary Ann's trip was less experiential- upon her arrival by plane a fog descended and for 36 hours she remained in the airport with the company of many many books on WWI and the German occupation of Guernsey. When Mary Ann returned to the United States the Guernsey setting seed had been planted.
There is so much more I could tell but this is where my story ends. If you haven't read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows I encourage you to do so. I will be reading it again as all the reasons I enjoyed the book were brought to the forefront of my mind- I totally had forgotten about the epistolary style of the book. I loved the question someone asked: "did the mail really travel as fast as represented in the book?" The answer is "yes" there were two mail deliveries back in the day!
Life on Newark-Granville Road is always the better when I'm enjoying a good book, a book usually recommended via book club. It is even better with nights like these when I learn the "why" and learn something new about my self and what I hold dear. Thanks for sharing my story- I look forward to hearing yours related to this author and book!
P.S. Ms. Barrows did talk a bit about writing children's literature and how she writes. I admire her abilities and work ethic and find her very inspiring.