Public Library and Other Stories
by Ali Smith
Review by Krystal Mainhart
This book contains a variety of short stories which all, in one way or another, relate around the theme of books and libraries, and how both of these impact the individual as well as communities. This book became part of, “a fierce fight, a growing national movement …to defend our public libraries [in the United Kingdom].” In the North American edition, the stories are interspersed with brief sections of transcribed interviews- the author asked friends and strangers about their views of libraries, their histories, and recent library closures.
The book appealed to me because of its book and library related themes. The author has also woven in some fun word play, and shares her interest in the origins of particular words. Because the author is British, there are some references to places et cetera which are British, such as a particular park. However, the underlying sentiments explored are more universal, for example, mindful living or the bizarre “logic” of dreams. The theme of death also appears throughout the stories.
At times it is grim (discussing photos from past wars) and at other times humorous (a man who has been declared dead in the newspaper not once, but twice, and his attempts to, once more, be declared living.) Though death is a theme in this book, the book is ultimately life-affirming. It is also a celebration of libraries and of sharing books and ideas, and how these enhance, enable, and transform our lives.
This book appealed to the bibliophile, as well as the anglophile in me. Particularly near the end of the book, I enjoyed catching many references to British musicians, such as Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithful, and Boy George.
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About the reviewer: Krystal Mainhart worked in libraries in middle school, college, and graduate school. She began working at the adult circulation desk at Tredyffrin Library last year. She loves books, words, ideas, as well as British music and TV shows.