“Libraries save the world, a lot, but outside the narrative mode of heroism: through contemplative action, anonymously and collectively. ” – Sophie Mayer
Double Review: Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith
Genre: Essays, short fiction
Published by Anchor, 2015
Indiana’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars Pete’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: We’ll probably come back to this collection someday.
Pete: We knew going into this book that we were going to love it. Ali Smith is an author who we both adore, and I feel like lately we’ve both been reading a lot of her, but rarely the same book. It was nice to read one of hers together for a change.
Indiana: Absolutely. This is the first short story/essay collection I’ve read of hers and it delivered. Of course, when you write about libraries I’m going to be interested right off the bat. But when it’s Ali Smith writing it, I expected a level of weirdness that she delivered on time and time again. First and foremost, there were plenty of ghosts to go around in these stories.
Pete: Of course. And if there weren’t actually ghosts in the stories, they were always mentioned. Even the story about her late friend not dying but instead being kidnapped by art thieves felt like it was about ghosts.
Indiana: Exactly. When Smith writes, it’s as she’s taking us into her mind. Even when she’s writing about one thing (like death or libraries) she packs in other quirky stories or trivia facts that seem to have nothing to do with the thing she’s writing about. It’s not stream of consciousness writing, it’s much more curated. But there’s something undeniably personal and engaging about it.
Pete: This felt like the most personal piece I’ve read of hers. Maybe it’s just because there were so many essays, but I also think it’s because the subject of this book is such a huge part of her life. Each story was passionate in a different way, and each one explored knowledge and the importance of having access to knowledge. In a way, her deeply inquisitive style in which she explores strange, tiny details reminds me of research. Like when you pick up a book to learn about one thing but end up coming away with more questions that lead you to other books.
Indiana: It’s easy to see that she’s spent much of her life in libraries and that she’s probably one for going from shelf to shelf, letting her research (and her curiosity) lead her as it may. The author interludes, which mostly discussed the importance of libraries, were a nice break in the stories and it was neat to hear about how many authors grew up like I did: loving and living in libraries.
Pete: I can’t think of another fiction book I’ve read where the author set out so candidly to prove a point and have an overall motif. But she chose a good one, and it feels even more important and relevant in 2018 than I’m sure it did in 2015