Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Greets from the Frozen North!

Hi everybody, figured it's about time I introduce myself.

I know Sarah through her husband Cory, whom I grew up with in Utah. Newly married in 1998, I joined the Air Force and received orders to Anchorage, Alaska where we instantly fell in love with the state. To remain here, I eventually transferred to the Alaska Air National Guard, and also took a job with the FAA as an electronic tech. Much of my time is spent traveling around Alaska maintaining navigational aids, radio and satellite communication sites, and weather stations. About once a year I take a temporary duty assignment or deployment with the Air Force, and have enjoyed the opportunity to travel throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.

My lovely wife hails from Hong Kong, and we have two children. Kevin is 6, in 1st grade, and developing into quite the reader as we tackle Harry Potter together. Alexa will be 3 soon and still working on her ABC's. Our family loves living in Alaska and take advantage of the many recreational activities here. Reading everyone's introductions, it's interesting to see several others with ties to this beautiful state!

Although I've loved reading all my life, audio books have spurred my interest in the last couple years. A good deal of my day is spent driving, and I've found the time is well spent listening to books I wouldn't otherwise have time to read. I've tried to revisit some classics I missed like The Count of Monte Cristo, (which I now love)but my main focus lies with history, science, and adventure biographies. Look me up on Goodreads if you'd like to see what I've been reading.

I've never belonged to a book club before, but I really enjoy discussing what I've read. I look forward to getting to know everyone and perhaps expanding my horizons a bit. While I don't see myself getting sucked into Twilight anytime soon, I'm sure there are plenty other great books we will share a common interest in!

Chad's take

I better review this while it's still fresh in my memory... Although I don't consider myself well-read on WWII, I have enjoyed a dozen books or so (mostly non-fiction) that take place during this most significant period in recent history. Nearly everything I've read takes the perspective of American and Allied troops in the midst of battle, and only mentions civilian life of those left behind in passing.

What I enjoyed most about this book, were the descriptions of how a community far removed from the front lines lived through Nazi occupation, the threat of air raids, and other horrors of war by forming social networks like their literary society. It illustrates that people must learn to cope with the tragic circumstances they find themselves in. Survivors strive to find constructive distractions to demoralizing chaos. In a way, I could draw parallels to the aftermath of 9/11 in our own time.

Several letters, Eben Ramsey's account of the pig roast in particular, were very poignant and interesting to read. I imagine that his description of a farmer forced to provide food to an enemy army was very realistic. I also appreciated Dawsey Adams insight and introspection which were in stark contrast to the effeminate Clovis Fossey blathering on about women's purses and heels or dim-witted Isola Pribby's forensic skills.

Other than published diaries, I've never run across a book that uses a written letter format exclusively to tell the story. After reading this, I can see why. Without a narrator or outside voice to tie up loose ends, the author is forced to fill in details using mundane telegrams and other short bantering correspondence which made parts of the book seem like eavesdropping on someone's private text message session. I'm sure some of that is necessary to move the story along when the authors commit to this style of writing, but it really highlights the weakness and tediousness of the format.

I had a hard time connecting with the characters and therefore never developed a reason to care much about them or become emotionally attached. Something about the way that these different personalities came together and bonded around Elizabeth just didn't ring true to me. Similarly, Juliet's passion to devote her life to her Guernsey pen pals seemed a bit overzealous didn't it?

In the end, there were parts I really enjoyed, especially the powerful and emotional observations of war through civilian eyes. Unfortunately, these moments were fleeting and far between. I realize that I'm not exactly the target audience the authors had in mind, but I honestly did try to put my biases aside and read this objectively. I believe the author's chosen format was the biggest drawback for me, but that aside, I just couldn't find much to appreciate about this story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I have to say that this was my second time reading this book and I found it just as delightful as the first time. I hope some of you other readers liked it also.

I remember being a little apprehensive at the outset the first time when I saw that the book was written in the format of letters. I wasn't sure how that would go. Then I thought, "well, I've read books written entirely in the form of emails and text messages, so I can probably handle letters." Once I really got started, the letter format turned out to be great. The voices of the different characters were very evident and I really started to feel like I knew these people. There is something so personal about writing letters. Except for missionaries writing home (and who knows if they write letters anymore now that they can email?) and the occasional thank-you note, letter-writing seems to be a lost art.

I think the characters are so wonderful and vivid. I love Juliet's spirit and how she seems to be so hopelessly prone to trouble: throwing books and teapots at people, somehow breaking Sidney's leg, breaking china... Isola, Amelia, Eben, and even Elizabeth, who we never met but is such a central figure in the book - they're all great. I'm adding Dawsey Adams to my list of literary crushes. Quiet, hardworking, loves to read, saves mementos, unfailingly all adds up. I think his reluctance to tell Juliet of his feelings has less to do with his own insecurities and lack of experience with relationships and more to do with a misunderstanding of her feelings. I think he sees Juliet with Mark or Sidney and doesn't want to get in the way of her happiness, thinking that she may be in love with either of those men. Very considerate of him to not want to burden her more or possibly keep her from her desires, even though he is miserable.

I was also impressed with the portrayal of Christian's character. It's so easy to paint a picture of any World War II-era German in a negative light. Hitler was a monster. He made his followers do terrible things. That does not necessarily mean that everyone who was a soldier then was a bad person or even that they believed in Hitler's cause. Without having proof (I bet it's out there somewhere though), I can only speculate that there were men and women who were simply following orders, doing so in fear of repercussions for disobedience. (Actually, there is a man in our church ward here who was a member of Hitler's youth program, simply because he had no other choice. Very interesting story. But I digress.) Much like the young women mentioned in the novel who took up with soldiers as a means to an end, a way to provide for their families when times were so desperate. Anyway, I liked how some of the Islanders developed relationships, even friendships, with some of the occupying soldiers. Christian in particular is portrayed as being kind, thoughtful, and willing to help the ordinary Guernsey citizens when he was able to do so. The cemetery groundskeeper, when talking to Juliet, shared accounts not only of Christian being kind and helpful but also of other soldiers dropping potatoes, oranges, and coal off the backs of trucks and even procuring medicine for the sick. It's nice to read accounts that the German soldiers weren't just machines, but human beings with feelings and families and the like.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Can't wait to hear what you thought of it.