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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow

Several years ago, I worked at an art gallery here in Anchorage. Though I loved the art, I wasn’t much good at selling it. More often than not, I just chatted up the customers, who were from all over the world.

One night, four elderly people wandered in. They told me they were from a tiny island off the coast of southern England called “Guernsey”. I’d never heard of it, so they proudly explained it was the only part of British soil that had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The island was occupied for a long five years; an experience to which they had all been witnesses. At that moment, Guernsey was marked in my mind.

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s new book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is an opportunity to travel back in time to 1946 Guernsey.

Beginning early 1946 in London, Juliet Ashton, a British writer, and former war journalist, is emerging from the ashes of the war to rebuild her life and her identity. She has lost her home and all her possessions, most regrettably her book collection. Out of the blue, she responds to correspondence started by a resident of Guernsey, who has managed to obtain a second-hand book once owned by Juliet, in which she had long ago written her name and address. Through this initial contact, Juliet meets an entire community, and the course of her life is redirected.

Easily reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s epistolary classic, “84 Charing Cross Road”, the novel is written in the epistolary style. Shaffer and Barrow skillfully use this medium to successfully establish their characters and a solid storyline.

Charming, funny, sweet, and thoughtful, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is a story that women might find more appealing than men. Yet, it is unflinching in its wartime recollections. The deprivations and devastation of the time are imaginatively and convincingly conveyed.

At its core, this is a book about the love of reading, and the magic of books.

I highly, highly recommend “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. Buy this book new and send a royalty in the direction of these lovely writers.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

June 2008 Reading List

June was a great month for reading. I read twelve books, five of which were from the library. These days, since it costs more to keep my gas tank full, I'm trying to check out more library books. This means I have to read more and faster to get through them and still be able to read some of what I own.

The asterisks following each entry indicates on a 5-point scale how I liked it.

1. "Bonk" by Mary Roach (***)
2. "Enchantment" by Orson Scott Card (**)
3. "A Great and Terrible Beauty" by Libba Bray (****)
4. "The Outcast" by Sadie Jones (****)
5. "Are You There God, It's Me. Kevin." by Kevin Keck (*)
6. "New Moon" by Stephenie Meyer (**)
7. "Rebel Angels" by Libba Bray (****)
8. "Biblioholism" by Tom Raabe (*****)
9. "Dreamers of the Day" by Mary Doria Russell (****)
10. "Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks (***)
11. "Sabriel" by Garth Nix (***)
12. "Eclipse" by Stephenie Meyer (***)

I'm six books into July so far. I've been reading a couple short youth books to get my numbers up. I didn't much reading done on vacation.

The weather in Anchorage is unusually cool for this time in July - by about 10 degrees. It's also wetter than usual. More like August weather. I'm triply glad I got a dose of heat and sun while in Seattle.

Book Review: "Mister Sandman" by Barbara Gowdy

“’The truth is only aversion.’” – Sonja Canary

In this beautifully written novel, the reader is introduced to each member of the Canary family. Early on it becomes clear that a great deal of how this unconventional family functions is through deceit. At first, it seems like this is a family doomed to destruction and angst. Afterall, the truth can only be buried so long. And, don’t most contemporary novels featuring highly dysfunctional families end sadly?

Happily, in “Mister Sandman”, what ultimately shines through each character’s obvious flaws is a genuine love, protection and devotion to each other that is endearing and comical. Joan, the family’s ethereal and mute youngest member, becomes the sounding board to whom the rest of the family divulges their secrets. She is a silent observer, a gravitational force that pulls the family inward and keeps it together. Later, she is also the catalyst for moving everyone together towards greater honesty with themselves and each other.

In Nancy Pearl’s “BookLust”, “Mister Sandman” is recommended as a “Coming Out” novel. Gowdy’s story is indeed frankly sexual. But whatever a reader’s comfort level with honest sexuality, I have seldom read a book with stronger characterizations, whose every sentence – nee, every word – is purposeful, thoughtful, and necessary to the story.

Though this is a family inherently averse to truth, it is their duplicity that gives them authentic dimensionality. While their dishonesty is never overtly approved of, neither is it the means to the Canary’s destruction.

“Mister Sandman” reminds me of John Irving’s early books minus the angst. I definitely want to read more of Gowdy’s books. I recently purchased “The White Bone”, a story told from the perspective of an elephant. With such far-reaching literary abilities, Gowdy deserves to become better-known in the United States.

“Mister Sandman” was an absolute pleasure to read. Despite such a vastly odd cast of characters and strange family mix, this is an uplifting story of a family whose devotion to each other rises above everything else.

“They could be a family spending a day at the beach together. If they were on a beach. If it was day.”

Monday, July 07, 2008

No News Probably Means "No"

A great "to do" was made when Jack recently won a chance to audition in Los Angeles for the tv show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?".

That was over a week ago now. We are enjoying hot, sunny days in western Washington visiting friends and family. We have been swimming, walking on the beach, and otherwise contentedly "hanging out."

However, we haven't heard a word from FOX Television. At this point, both Bruce and I are assuming this means Jack wasn't selected. Like many kinds of job interviews, sometimes you just don't hear anything. Ever.

So, unless we hear otherwise, we are assuming life will go on in its sweetly normal fashion.

It was a very fun, wonderful experience. Thanks for the encouragement and support shown to us!

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