another review of a book about book lovers

So in the exhilarating hours following my completion of Anna Karenina I read 84, Charing Cross Road quickly followed by the similar The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. A book with which I fell completely in love.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

As I mentioned in my review of 84 I heard about Guernsey when listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR. And because of Anna I had to wait to read it. I opened the pages and found a quote from the book on this special glossy page at the beginning of the novel.

I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How wonderful if that were true.

  I teared up more than a few times while reading this book. Mary Ann Shaffer (described by her niece as their family’s best story-teller) and her niece Annie Barrows struck quite an amazing tone in telling the stories of the men and women who lived under German occupation in the British Channel Isles during World War Two. It is a story of courage and unlikely friendships and all those “feel good” cliches they use to describe novels like this. And I loved it.

Anna is considered a “great romance” and I guess I can kind of see that when it comes to Levin and Kitty… but to me it seemed more like a dissertation on dysfunctional relationships. So, this whimsical romance set in such a distinct little place was refreshing and just so cute to me.

Like 84, Guernsey is told through correspondence. The letters written to and from Juliet unfold the story of her life and the inhabitants of this quirky little island in the English Channel. All of the characters are resiliently recovering from the horrors of World War II and attempting to piece their lives back together. And Juliet, hearing of the people and their plight during the war decides to write a story about them.

I think after the bleak, bleak pages of early 19th century Russia the hopeful love story set in the late 1940s was so completely refreshing that I just liked it without even thinking about it. It is one of the best kinds of stories: people drawing together during a dark time and creating joy in the midst of terror.

I find the title of this book sort of amusing. As with most absurdly long titles it makes perfect sense once you’ve read the novel. And the quirkiness is sure to grab attention of book browsers. I like quirky names, but I am over them a little bit. I don’t think I’ll ever like books with one word titles. But somewhere in the 2-4 words range is acceptable I think. Or maybe I’m just in a weird mood after blogging about so many books with ridiculously long titles.

I have some exciting news for you all later this week… so make sure you stop by the blog Thursday to read it!

See you then.

the problem with reading reviews…

… before you’ve finished the novel is this: you lose interest.

I know I’ve referenced Goodreads more than a few times on here. And I do love it. I’ve found several books that I might not have read otherwise… plus this 800 word prequel that Rowling wrote about James and Sirius that was pretty cute. But the problem with Goodreads is that I read reviews of books before I’ve finished them. In the case of Anna Karenina this was helpful. I realized other people in the world loathed this novel as much as I did. One reader even admitted to tossing his in a fire upon completion (I haven’t done that… I don’t think I could).

Other novels I’ve read reviews of didn’t really bother me because I didn’t care about them too much. So the reviews were merely entertaining and didn’t affect my reading too much. And then there’s this book

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

I want so desperately to like this book. I started it on December 7th and there’s no way it should take me 7 days to read. But I just can’t get into it. I mean Ms. Russell writes some beautiful pieces. Collections of words and phrases that thrill me. But this story is just plodding along and making me want to cry.

I read one of her short stories last semester in my Fiction I class. “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach” found in The Best American Short Stories 2010. I think our overall reaction to the story was that it was bizarre and dense. I mean, Karen throws in polysyllabic words one after the other like it ain’t no thing. And after two paragraphs filled with heavy words and phrases I just find myself really really tired.

So, I’ll finish it. But I may need to pick up another book and start reading two of them simultaneously. I only have 17 days left after all.