Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Barrows

Bad Germans. Good Germans. This account of the German occupation in British Guernsey has them all. Artfully woven vignettes that paint a vivid picture of WWII England and what the Occupation experience was illustrate how goodness is not so much a matter of geography as it is a matter of the heart.

The story is told though written correspondence amongst the different characters in the book and I found the many voices charming. (I kept holding auditions in my mind with various British and Irish actors/actresses for the movie. My cast was great.) : ) Because of this letter-turned-story format, I expected to find the plot disjointed. I was pleasantly surprised that the story flowed along quite nicely. The characters were quirky and endearing and the authors did an amazing job of balancing the heavy and sad things in the story with accounts that were equally uplifting and inspiring.

My one criticism for Guernsey was that it was really easy to put this book down. Because the letters are each only two or three pages long, there were natural breaks in the book all the time. This is fine for someone who is very busy but wants to take a couple minutes each day to read. I, however, like a book that will suck me in and eat away the hours without giving me the slightest hint that I am beginning to petrify on the couch. : ) In spite of the ease with which I could disengage, I still thought the overall message of the book was quite beautiful. The love story was sweet and not completely predictable. Something more substantial to be sure.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is easily something more substantial. It wasn't my intention to read two of these in a row. This was a happy accident though. The writing is excellent. The language is surprising. The perspective is original. The message is touching. Read it. It's good.*

*You should know going into this story that it is a Holocaust book and therefore may contain themes which are difficult to read.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Hmmm. There were little moments when I loved what Elizabeth Gilbert was saying and how she was saying it. There were bigger moments where I hated the book and her attitude and everything about what she is peddling as spirituality. This made for a pretty good book group discussion. Overall I would have to say I didn't like it but I would recommend it. I'm not sure if that qualifies as something more substantial or what, but for lack of a better category I will give it that. I would like to share some of the little gems that struck a chord for me.

I loved how the book was structured.



How This Book Works


The 109th Bead"

"When you're traveling in see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks. ... These strings of beads are called japa malas."

"The traditional japa mala is strung with 108 beads. Amid the more esoteric circles of Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes. And three, of course, is the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can planinly see. Being as this whole book is about my efforts to find balance, I have decided to structure it like a japa mala, dividing my story into 108 tales, or beads. This string of 108 tales is further divided into three sections about Italy, India and Indonesia- the three countries I visited during this year of self-inquiry."

I loved this. Each section has 3 names as well. I thought it was very clever writing.

There was a bit her friend in Italy told her about cities that I also loved.

"He said, "Don't you know that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn-what is the word of the street?" Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people's thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be- that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don't really belong there. "What's Rome's word?" I asked. "SEX," he announced. "But isn't that a stereotype about Rome?" "No." "But surely there are some people in Rome thinking about other things than sex?" Giulio insisted: "No. All of them, all day, all they are thinking about is SEX." "Even over at the Vatican?" "That's different. The Vatican isn't part of Rome. They have a different word over there. Their word is POWER." "You'd think it would be FAITH." "It's POWER," he repeated. "Trust me. But the word in Rome- it's SEX." ... Guilio asked, "What's the word in New York City?" I thought about this for a moment, then decided. "It's a verb, of course. I think it's ACHIEVE." (Which is subtly but significantly different from the word in Los Angeles, I believe, which is also a verb: SUCCEED....)"

I found that so intriguing. I've been trying to pin down my own word ever since reading it.

There was one other part I had intended to share about how prayer works but I really don't want to spoil it for you if you are going to read the book. If you do, it is on the 58th bead (p.176).