What happens when you're bad with money and also disorganized: Or, how I managed to accidentally not read this book I owned for years, and how I'm now kicking myself because it was really good
(not including minisodes) to work my way through, it had become cemented as part of my routine. Then I realized I was caught up. No new episodes till Thursday. Weird.
So I went back to my long-lost podcast love: Get Booked, by bookriot. Amanda and Jenn and their roughly-an-hour book recommendation podcast were my constant car companion in college, when my parents lived roughly-an-hour from campus, as well as during my student teaching year when I made the same drive in reverse each Friday for some (bogus) graduate courses. (We did mock interviews and talked about what was hard about teaching, and they charged us grad rates for it--but that's a whole different post.)
As always happens when I listen to Get Booked, I became very excited to read. But as always happens when I listen to Get Booked, I listened to like 10 episodes in a short period of time and wound up so torn about what to read first that I watched 30 Rock again, even though I can recite all the punchlines by heart.
However, after a few episodes, I was able to put forth even the slightest effort when it came to picking, and I opened my dusty Audible app.
There they were, the books I had spent credits on but never read: the relics of my almost forgotten time working at the Most Boring Library In All The World, the Turfgrass Information Center which is a real place.
In college, I was both poor and bad with money: no doubt in training for the type of adult I've blossomed into. So by the time I cancelled my audible subscription during my senior year of college, I had 11 credits I needed to use and I just spent them on any random thing that tickled my fancy. Thus, I had owned this audiobook for almost 3 years before I ever bothered to play it.
So we're finally to the good part. I listened to it. I hit play during the middle of my work day, when I'd finished grading papers and was onto the visual arts that required less reading and writing attention. (Listening to audiobooks at the turfgrass library while I indexed articles has given me this, my greatest skill.) I listened throughout the afternoon, and while I cooked dinner, and on the way to trivia, and then I sat in the car until I absolutely had to walk into the restaurant. (We won our tournament, by the way, Go Team Farm Fresh Eggs!) Then I listened to it on the way home, and drew a bath, and realized after about 20 minutes that baths aren't as nice as they sound and my shoulders were cold, so I took my little speaker out into the living room and snuggled underneath all the blankets as it wound to a close.
The book is an epistolary novel set just after the end of WWII. London is largely rubble, and the main character Juliet Ashton has just published a book. The book flopped, which was difficult for her after her success during the war as a columnist about the home front. She's feeling down, wondering how she can write the content she wants to now that the war is over.
Her publisher and editor, Sidney Stark, is encouraging her to find a new journalistic project that inspires her when she receives a letter from a man on Guernsey: he has an old book of hers, and after finding her name and address on the inside cover he hoped to write to her and ask if she can point him in the direction of more about the author. He explains that on Guernsey, things are still in turmoil and its been hard to get news or books on the island the last several years.
She writes back and they strike up a correspondence in which he shares the story of his Literary Society, which was founded during the war while trying to cover up some hidden livestock from the occupying nazis. Despite its shaky beginnings, the society became exactly what it claimed to be: each member choosing a book, reading it, and speaking about it at the meetings. (The meetings were described as a time for the reader to try and convince their friends to read it too, which made me smile as I thought back to my return to Get Booked being the catalyst for finally picking this up.)
She's fascinated by this unique story about the war, and begins corresponding with many of the members of the club, before ultimately deciding to travel to the island herself to meet them.
I loved this book. I loved everything about it. I loved the epistolary format; I loved the wide cast of characters; I loved the way experiences from the war were shared both through the lens of books and the book community they had formed, but also in their rawest state, as simply the stories that human beings carry with them. I loved the love story, with its charming and well-earned happy ending.
It's always interesting to take a look at the sort of quieter ways that war affects people. Being raised in America (and especially in Detroit, the Motor City) the narrative surrounding WWII has always been one of optimism and triumph: we crushed the bad guys, we came back from the Great Depression. But that war wasn't fought on our soil, and there were no Nazis patrolling our neighborhoods. The stories of the ways that these islanders suffered during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey were as beautiful as they were complex.
Often, it can be easy to strip a Nazi soldier of anything that would make them a character: to turn them into a one dimensional baddie. Their crimes are irrefutable and unjustifiable: my own Grandmother was captured and put into a labor camp when the Nazis invaded Poland, and she suffered so greatly that she was unable to talk about it for the rest of her life. But the book takes a careful look at these soldiers, reminding you that they weren't all Hitler. They did kind things, and some were kind people in the right situations. Then, they also did terrible and cruel things. It wasn't black and white. Being isolated together on the island with the locals, the lines blurred between the occupiers and the natives and that formed a complex community that was hard to define in any simple terms.
I am always a sucker for a story that paints a portrait of a community and gives voices to the different members of that community: the prime example being Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which is my favorite book of all time provided you don't catch me at a time when I've been staring dramatically out the window thinking about Mary Shelley. This book did that so, so well. I fell in love with the characters, and even more so with the island.
I felt like I was there, and at the same time I was very aware that I wasn't there: probably because I wanted to be so badly. Part of me wonders if I could find statistics about tourism rates to Guernsey before and after the book's release.
There were multiple cast members reading novels from different characters, and they were all fantastic. It can be so hard to get through an audiobook when someone is trying to do too many voices and they're really only good in a few: this one didn't need to deal with that. From the Londoner Juliet Ashton to the brogue-wielding Dawsey, everyone had a great voice bringing their letters to life.
To cap off the many ways I was late to this party, I didn't know until google imaging the book cover for this post that it has been adapted into a film: the world premiere is occurring as I write this on the evening April 9th, 2018. I'm curious how they'll translate the epistolary format to the screen, and super excited to see it when it premiers on Netflix later this month (??? the articles were less than clear.)