Finding peace with the help of a good book

Through the lens of literature

Finding peace with the help of a good book“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” — The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


I should clarify — I don’t think it’s the reader who is perfect, rather the experience of finding the right book at precisely the moment you need it. Such was my discovery of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (Maybe I should add that I didn’t find it on my own — it was chosen by a member of my book club.)

Although a work of fiction, the book recounts through cunningly crafted letters the German occupation of this tiny island in the English Channel during World War II. The characters suffer sorrows unimaginable to most of us, and still manage to find the resiliency to survive. (The letter writers survive, that is. Of course not everyone does).

But this is not really a review of the book. Just a study on the wisdom Shaffer and Barrows seem to have stumbled upon about how often we encounter a story exactly when we need it.

I picked up Guernsey just when the threat of coronavirus began to loom over us. My husband and I take turns reading to each other, so in this case our slow progress seemed perfectly paced for the escalating restrictions imposed on us over the last couple of months. It would have been a fantastic read under any circumstances, but somehow exploring the lives of those struggling under actual tyranny and tragedy provided us a powerful perspective for our times.

While many have, during our present crisis, experienced undeniable hardship — loss of loved ones, livelihoods, resources, support, opportunities to connect during grief or celebration — for some of us the personal difficulties can more rightly be chalked up to inconveniences (though admittedly exhausting and frustrating ones, at times).

But Guernsey (and a multitude of other stories) is not just a reminder to be thankful for what we have, it’s a reminder that “this too shall pass.” At the end of wars (and presumably lockdowns), our pathway forward is informed by a refined sense of priorities and goals.

We may not have reached the rebuilding phase yet, but now is the perfect time to take stock of what offers us comfort and peace right now. Maybe some of the sources of our fears, anxieties and frustrations don’t need to come with us into the future.

— Rebecca Neipp

Pictured: Historic photos of Nazi soldiers manning artillery during their World War II occupation of the Island of Guernsey, located in the English Channel. — Courtesy photos

Story First Published: 2020-05-01