Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saddened and moved

I keep hearing about this book with a quirky and unforgettable title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; I don't know how many times I've heard the title and made a passing mental note of it, meaning to look into it. But it wasn't until this morning, when I saw it mentioned on a Goodreads update (I believe Miss Erin marked it "to read") that I took note of the name of the author. Mary Ann Shaffer (and Annie Barrows). Mary Ann Shaffer. Immediately my mind flashed to a wonderful woman I had worked with at the fabulous independent bookstore, Book Passage, in the early 90s, while I was in college. She had been an older lady, a former librarian, and a hoot of a storyteller with a hint of a West Virginia drawl. But, I mean, the name Mary Ann Shaffer is probably pretty common.

But, it turns out, this is indeed the same Mary Ann Shaffer! I knew as soon as I saw the picture of the authors at the book's website -- so wonderful to see her face again! And when I saw the link to "the Mary Ann Shaffer Memorial Fund," my heart kind of froze. It turns out that Mary Ann did not live to see her novel published. Or indeed, to see it hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, or be loved by lots of people. Her niece, children's book author Annie Barrows (author of Ivy and Bean) helped her finish the book when she fell ill, and has had, I imagine, the bittersweet joy and sadness of seeing to it published to great, great success after Mary Ann's passing.

I'm so happy for Mary Ann, and so saddened by the news.

There is a story she told me once at Book Passage that has stuck with me, that I have repeated over the years, usually when the subject of the actor Anthony Hopkins comes up (you'll see why); I won't be able to tell it as she did, of course, and I'll have forgotten many of the details, but it was something like this. Mary Ann had, after a long period of nursing her husband through an illness, taken the advice of friends and library patrons where she worked, and decided to do something for herself, just for fun. The thing she decided to do was to fly to New York to see Anthony Hopkins perform in Equus. So off she went. What she didn't know was that one of the library patrons had taken it upon herself, through whatever resources she possessed, to notify Mr. Hopkins of Mary Ann's coming, and to tell him a little bit about the circumstances of her trip. So, again, details elude me, but as I recall, Mary Ann arrived in New York and checked into her hotel, and she was out on the street in front of the hotel about to set off on a walk, or to go early to the theater, when she happened to see. . . Anthony Hopkins on the sidewalk. As she watched, kind of amazed, he went up to a woman and asked her a question. The woman shook her head and walked away. He approached another woman and, again, asked her a question. This woman too shook her head and walked away. Mary Ann stopped her, and asked, "What did Anthony Hopkins just say to you?" And the woman said, "He asked if I was Mary Ann Shaffer." Imagine! Of course, Mary Ann was stunned, and managed to say, "But. . . I'm Mary Ann Shaffer!" and the woman urged her, "Go! Go!" and she did, and introduced herself, and Anthony Hopkins very graciously took her on an early tour of the theater and made her feel very special and welcome. And that's all I remember. It has always made me think very well of Anthony Hopkins, and if anyone were to suggest (I don't know why they would) that he is anything but a nice, considerate man, this would be my proof to the contrary!

I wish I remembered more stories. I am so eager now to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which sounds like just the kind of book I love -- a glimpse into a little-known slice of history, peopled with interesting characters. . . And what's more, I gather that it's about book lovers, and about ordinary people bearing up under Nazi occupation, and perhaps committing small acts of heroism.

* * *

In wistful memory of Mary Ann Shaffer, who realized her dream but didn't quite get to see it.

Here's a video of Annie Barrows discussing the book:

17 comments:

Q said...

My mother told me about this book. She really enjoyed it.

Gondal-girl said...

lovely post

lkmadigan said...

Oh, I didn't know that! Her passing isn't alluded to on the flap copy or acknowledgments.

I just finished the book about a week ago. It's truly wonderful. I think you'll like it.

Christine Fletcher said...

What a beautiful story, Laini. I'd heard of the book, but I didn't know Mary Ann Shaffer had passed away. How wonderful that you knew her! I'm looking forward to reading the book...somewhere in my enormous TBR pile!

K. M. Walton said...

Isn't life remarkable? And circular?

Patry Francis said...

I've been wanting to read this book for a while. Your lovely post and link convinced me to move it to the to of my list. Thanks for sharing a wonderful story. I'm now officially in love with Anthony Hopkins.

Jennifer said...

It is a wonderful book! Loved it!

Deirdre said...

I read the book a few months ago and loved it. It's a slice of ordinary life told beautifully. I sighed (out loud) several times while I read. It's so sad the author didn't live to see it published.

Yolanda said...

You will love it. Have you read Every Soul a Star? You would love it too.

Stephanie Perkins said...

What a GREAT story. Ohhh, that makes me like Anthony Hopkins so much. And how cool that you worked with the author!!

I wish she could have seen her success, but what a WONDERFUL thing it is that her niece was able to help her finish it. (The Ivy and Bean series, by the way, is super cute.)

I keep hearing wonderful things about this book too. Let us know what you think!

Katie said...

SO WEIRD! I am literally sitting here reading it - took a break to check email etc... and saw your post.

wow.

Yes - you'll love it. The characters are adorable and I wish I knew them in real life.

Amber said...

Thank you for sharing this. What a neat story! And what a sad story, too. I almost picked this up-- but made myslef just say no. (i have to read what I have first!)

:)

tone almhjell said...

I had no idea Anthony Hopkins was such a slendid fellow. I like to know that about him. I like it when niceness wells up in potholes and cracks ans splashes me as I walk by.

Lisa Schroeder said...

I bought it a couple of weeks and dove into it this weekend. It's lovely. I'm sad by her passing too, that she couldn't see how many lives her book touched.

Mardougrrl said...

I saw this at the bookstore the other day and was captivated enough, almost, to buy it (and you know how few books I actually buy). Now I'll have to check it out at the library. So thanks...

and I love that Anthony Hopkins story!

MICHELLE.K said...

what a lovely post & a lovely blog

Corina said...

I'm sure some of those stories she told you will come back to you. Be ready to receive them!