One-Minute Book Reviews

November 24, 2008

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,’ a Novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Filed under: Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:53 pm
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10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Early in 1946, Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a pig farmer who found her name and address on the flyleaf of a secondhand book of essays by Charles Lamb. Juliet writes back to Dawsey Adams and learns that he belongs to an offbeat book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, on a Channel Island once occupied by Nazis. She begins to correspond with club members and, after deciding to visit them, becomes enmeshed in their lives – though a handsome American publishing tycoon is courting her back in London. Juliet had been hoping to put the war behind her. But on Guernsey, she gains a deeper awareness that she can’t escape history: “The war is now the story of our lives, and there’s no subtracting it.”

Questions for Discussion

1 The obvious question first: What did you think of the title of this novel? Did you pick up the book despite or because of it?

2 How well did the novel-in-letters format work? Why do think the authors chose it? What do we gain from reading the letters that we might not get from a more conventional narrative?

3 Many critics gave this novel raves. But Wendy Smith qualified her generally favorable review in the Washington Post by saying that the book has a “contrived” premise: “The authors don’t even bother to suggest how Juliet’s discarded book turned up in Guernsey, and the neat way its literary society fits into her Times assignment is highly convenient.” Did you find all or part of the plot contrived? Does it matter whether it is?

4 Juliet has two men interested in her, each of whom has appealing traits, just as the heroines of many romance novels do. Is this novel essentially an intelligent romance novel? Why or why not?

5 Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows weave many details about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey into their story. For example, Eben Ramsey says that late in 1944: “We were rationed to two candles a week and then only one.” [Page 64] Novels based on historical research sometimes read more like term papers than fiction. Did you ever feel that way about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? If not, why? How did the authors keep their research from slowing the pace of the story?

6 Juliet’s parents died when she was 12. [Page 45] Dawsey is an adult orphan who lost his father when he was 11 and his mother just before World War II. [Page 232] Many beloved novels, from Jane Eyre to the Harry Potter books, involve orphans. Why do you think this is so? How does The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society resemble other orphan novels you’ve read?

7 A book club member named John Booker quotes the Roman orator Seneca: “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” [Page 150] What did he mean? Booker was talking about grief for concentration camp victims, but could the quote apply also to people in this novel? Does it express a theme of the book?

8 “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books,” Isola Pribby writes to Juliet. [Page 53] Is this true? Or are books like food in that a lot of us can savor a five-star meal and still hit the Fritos Scoops during the Super Bowl?

9 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society has many amusing lines and scenes. Which did you like most? What role does humor play in the novel?

10 The authors salt their story with quotes or anecdotes about well-known writers. Did these make you want to read some of the authors’ books? Which, if any, would you like your book group to read?

Vital Statistics

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Dial, 278 pp., $22. Published: July 2008 and

A review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on the day this guide did.

About the authors: Mary Ann Shaffer became ill after selling this novel to the Dial Press and died of cancer in February 2008 before the book appeared in print. Her niece, the children’s author Annie Barrows, shepherded the book through the editing process.

Your group may also want to read:

A Woman of Independent Means

The “Epistolary Novels” page on Wikipedia, which talks about the types of novels-in-letters and gives old and new examples of the form

The “Orphan Novels” page on Wikipedia, which gives an overview of these

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and book critic for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. She wrote the comic novels The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks.

Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear on One-Minute Book Reviews often but not on a regular schedule. They often deal with books for which publishers have provided no guides or guides that are flawed – for example, because they encourage cheerleading for books instead of thoughtful discussion. They are also intended to be more comprehensive than publishers’ guides. To avoid missing the them, please bookmark the site or subscribe to the RSS feed. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from authors, editors, publishers, agents or others who have a financial stake in books, and all reviews offer views that are not influenced by marketing concerns. If you would like to see the guides continue, it would be extremely helpful if you would link to them.

You can find more Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides at Thank you for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews, a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda

John Updike Makes 2008 Bad Sex in Fiction Award Shortlist for ‘The Widows of Eastwick’ – Russell Banks Also a Finalist — Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘American Wife’ Spared

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:36 pm
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John Updike’s The Widows of Eastwick has made the shortlist for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award given by the U.K. magazine the Literary Review. Among books by Americans, Russell Banks’s The Reserve is also finalist for the annual prize, launched to recognize and discourage crude, tasteless and often gratuitous sex scenes in modern novels that otherwise have literary merit.

The judges spared Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, which some critics have derided for its unintentionally comical sex scenes involving characters resembling George and Laura Bush. But they shortlisted Brida by the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, whose The Alchemist has been an American bestseller.

I admire much of the work of John Updike, particularly his poetry and literary criticism, and stand my recent comment that if Updike lived in Greenland, he would have had a Nobel Prize years ago. But – let’s face it – it’s a miracle that he has never won a Bad Sex award, given that this man created the lecherous Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, who made a pass at his daughter-in-law on his deathbed. And I regard Russell Banks as one of America’s most overrated writers, so his nomination doesn’t test my startle reflect, either.

The Literary Review will award the Bad Sex prizes tomorrow night, and the meantime you can read about them at A victory by Updike or Banks would be the second award to an American in two years: Norman Mailer won posthumously in 2007 for The Castle in the Forest. Check back late tomorrow afternoon if you’re interested in the results.

You may also want to read the following 2007 posts on One-Minute Book Reviews:
“Ian McEwan Makes Longlist for Bad Sex in Fiction Award as Expected”

“’Sex in Ian McEwan’s Novel Is Not Bad Enough to Impress the Judges’”

“Read All the Passages Shortlisted for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award Here”

And this one from earlier 2008:

“Late Night With Jan Harayda – Is Curtis Sittenfeld Courting a Bad Sex in Fiction Award?”

The Literary Review does not post the shortlist on its Web site

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia’ – A Great Gift for a Driver Who Reads More Than Road Signs

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:19 am
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An entertaining book of facts that includes a list of the “the 20 greatest car movies” and their stars and cars

Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia. By Giles Chapman. Merrell, 187 pp., $16.95.

By Janice Harayda

This book is, quite possibly, the best literary gift for a car-lover that I have come across in more than 15 years of reviewing. It is witty, intelligent, well-written, inexpensive, and handsomely illustrated. It is also full of fascinating lore, such as its list of 25 excuses supposedly written on insurance forms after accidents. (Excuse No. 6: “I didn’t think the speed limit applied after midnight.”) And it speaks to lovers of all kinds cars — Kias and Hyundais included — unlike the overpriced coffee-table tomes that seem intended mainly for people who think you haven’t lived until you’ve owned a Maybach 62.

Much of Chapman’s Car Compendium consists of anecdotes, diagrams and lists with inspired titles like “Dictators’ cars” (“Rafael Trujillo – Chrysler Crown Imperial”) and “The cars most name-dropped in rap songs” (Mercedes is No. 1). But the book also has pithy advice on subjects such as how to wash, winterize and sell your car.

Giles Chapman notes that you, could, conceivably discover some of his material online. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as reading this book. Chapman begins his introduction to one list with the droll: “Scotland is noted for many things, but making cars isn’t one of them.” He mercifully doesn’t say whether there’s a connection between that fact and another: Scotland is known for making malt liquor.

Best line: The list of “The 20 greatest car movies and their stars.” Chapman lists the stars and the cars they drove in the films. (Be honest, boomers: Did you remember that Dustin Hoffman drove an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider in The Graduate?) Some of his choices reflect tastes perhaps more British than American: Carry on Cabby makes the cut but Taxi Driver doesn’t. But other entries are above reproach: Goldfinger (Aston Martin DB5), Thelma and Louise (Ford Thunderbird), Driving Miss Daisy (Hudson Hornet).

Worst line: “20 celebrity car deaths.” Some deaths on this list involve disputed circumstances that beg for a fuller discussion. Chapman says Princess Grace died while driving her Rover 3500S. Wikipedia says it was a Rover P6. Chapman may be right, but what’s his source?

Published: October 2007

About the author: Chapman is a London-based former editor of Classic & Sports Car (“the world’s best-selling classic car magazine,” or so he says) who appears frequently on BBC radio. He contributes to many well-known magazines and newspapers.

Furthermore: God bless public libraries. I might have missed this one if I hadn’t found it in the “New Books” section at mine.

Janice Harayda’s 2008 A-to-Z holiday gift-book list will appear soon. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing it.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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