Letters and Books


Letters and Books

“The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society” is a book about the bonding powers of letters and books. The story: writer Juliet Ashton is contacted by Dawsey Adams of The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society asking for information about the author Charles Lamb. This marks the beginning of an exchange of letters between Juliet and other members of the Literary Club.

The club began during the German occupation of Guersney Island. Tragically, one of its members, Elizabeth, was sent to Ravensbruck where she was executed. Juliet would like to write about Elizabeth as well as the experiences of other members of the group during the occupation.

The book is about how people and books can help one survive even the most difficult of situations.

The author, Mary Ann Shaffer, was an American librarian and editor who’d been encouraged by members of her writing group to write a novel even though she was already in her late 60s.

Mary Ann had difficulties in being consistent with her writing. So her group often tried nagging her into action. To explain her inertia, she once wrote them a letter.

Her story, she wrote, was about “a group of unlikely friends who are thrown together because of the exigency of living under the German Occupation during World War II.” But Mary Ann was having problems creating characters she liked. Of the characters she’d created, “there is not one of them I have any desire to spend time with,” she wrote.

Since the book was based on letters, she tried developing characters by writing imaginary letters from them. But all the letters sounded alike. So she sought illumination from writing gurus who suggested going around eavesdropping on people then writing down what they said in little notebooks. But the people she listened to all sounded alike as well. She also read Annie Lamott who said that every character must have a unique passion. But on the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, everyone had the same passion—finding food.

In the end, we are all alike.

 “The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society” was published posthumously, a few months after Mary Ann’s death. It was the only book Mary Ann ever published. Pity she wasn’t around to see that it was a bestseller and transformed into a successful film.

“The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is available on Archive HERE.

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