by Val Tobin
Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I’ll post the first page of a book and you’ll vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.
After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.
While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.
Genre: Historical Fiction
8th January, 1946
Mr. Sidney Stark, Publisher
Stephens & Stark Ltd.
21 St. James’s Place
Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food. Susan managed to procure ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue. If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won’t mind touring about the country. Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter? Let’s try it—you may deduct the money from my royalties.
Now for my grim news. You asked me how work on my new book is progressing. Sidney, it isn’t.
English Foibles seemed so promising at first. After all, one should be able to write reams about the Society to Protest the Glorification of the English Bunny. I unearthed a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators’ Trade Union, marching down an Oxford street with placards screaming “Down with Beatrix Potter!” But what is there to write about after a caption? Nothing, that’s what.
I no longer want to write this book—my head and my heart just aren’t in it. Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is—and was—to me, I don’t want to write anything else under that name. I don’t want …
Would you turn the page? Vote now.
Today’s Book Revealed
Today’s book is The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Blurb from Amazon
“Treat yourself to this book, please—I can’t recommend it highly enough.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“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.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. . . .
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
Praise for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
“A jewel . . . Poignant and keenly observed, Guernsey is a small masterpiece about love, war, and the immeasurable sustenance to be found in good books and good friends.”—People
“A book-lover’s delight, an implicit and sometimes explicit paean to all things literary.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“A sparkling epistolary novel radiating wit, lightly worn erudition and written with great assurance and aplomb.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“Cooked perfectly à point: subtle and elegant in flavour, yet emotionally satisfying to the finish.”—The Times (London)
Would I Turn the Page?
No. The first page didn’t capture my interest. There’s nothing there to pull me into the story. I’m not one to enjoy reading letters by and for people I don’t know.
Probably if I’d picked this up off the bookshelf in the bookstore to see if I wanted to buy it, I’d turn the page to see how long that letter is. Then, discovering that the entire book is all letters going between various people, I’d set it back down and find something else.
A friend lent me this book, and I was thrilled at first. The movie is available on Netflix and everyone was telling me it was good. I prefer reading the book before watching the movie, so I eagerly dug in. I found it tedious because it’s one letter after another. Sure, you infer a lot about the characters from what they write, but I didn’t find it interesting. Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to read between the lines to figure out who was who and what was what.
Some might find this fun and interesting and the concept unique enough to keep them riveted. I found my mind wandering too often and caught myself checking the page number frequently, which signals to me that I couldn’t get immersed in the story.
Perhaps I’ll watch the movie instead.
What do you think?
Does this passage from The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society intrigue you? Does it make you want to turn the page and continue reading? Will you run out now and buy the book? Borrow it?
Val Tobin writes speculative fiction and searches the world over for the perfect butter tart. Her home is in Newmarket, Ontario, where she enjoys writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.
I find nothing in the page to interest me enough to turn the page…
James Scott Bell in How to Write Short Stories talks about a shattering moment as the force behind the short story.
I think a letter qualifies as a short story.
It lacks the shattering moment.
For some reason I found the letter interesting enough to finish the whole excerpt. Could be because it is well written and I would like to know more. The fact someone is explaining something well and it is not full of modified verbs or run on sentences does it for me. The book may not be something I would buy if it was all like that, but I would give it a little go to see how it went.
OMG I read that book and loved it. That was many years ago. Obviously, I went beyond the first page then and I read to the end of the excerpt now. It is well written, just didn’t grab my attention today. Ah, we change…
I am pretty sure I read this book a few years ago but I didn’t love it. I would definitely keep reading a page or two more to see if anything hooked me.
I tried to watch the movie on Netflix and couldn’t finish it.
I think I’m getting pickier in my old age.
I liked the humour and pace right off. “Over forty copies” I found sympathetic as a beginning writer and found myself relating in a hopeful way! I will look for it on Netflix and the library. One day, I too hope to sell over forty copies.