Friday, October 7, 2016

Public Library and Other Stories

Title:  Public Library and Other Stories
Author:  Ali Smith
Publication Information:  Anchor. 2016. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1101973048 / 978-1101973042

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Here is a true story."

Favorite Quote:  "Democracy or reading, democracy of space:  our public library tradition, wherever we live in the wide world, was incredibly hard-won for us by the generations before us and ought to be protected, not just for ourselves but in the name of every generation after us."

The fact that the book has "public library" in the title is a clue as to what the focus of the book might be. It is, but perhaps not in the way you might think. This book is a collection of short stories alternating with different individuals giving their odes to the public library.

The dozen short stories are not about libraries; nor are they necessarily set in or around a library. They are not necessarily even about books. The stories are very different from each other and have cryptic titles such as "Last" and "Grass" and "The ex-wife". The topics are equally varied. The common thread between them is not libraries or books but rather language; the power and meaning and context of words play a key role in all the stories.

As with any short story collection, some of the stories call to my heart and some I read and leave without a look back. My favorite perhaps is the one titled "The Art of Elsewhere" because of its definition and description of elsewhere; again it comes back to language. What I love about all the stories is the focus on language - words themselves - that comes through the stories. "Words were stories in themselves." This is the first book I have read by Ali Smith, and I am intrigued.

The sections in between the short stories are essentially expressions of love for public libraries. About a dozen from people wrote about the role libraries play in their lives. Some contributor names I recognize, and some I don't. It doesn't matter because I completely recognize and share their love for libraries. Each one comes back to the importance of libraries and the crucial need to support and ensure that our libraries remain a funded and vibrant resource for our communities.

Libraries, of course, house books. However, their function as a community resource extends so far beyond that - as a warm, safe to place to go; as a curator of information; as an information technology resource; as an access point to the world and beyond; and so much more as libraries evolve to meet the changing needs of their communities. Unfortunately, so many communities have either lost or stand to lost this resource, and that is truly tragic.

As an avid reader, a book collector, a book blogger, and someone who calls my local library my home away from home, I love the personal commentary on what libraries mean to the individual contributors. I could read an entire book on people's love affair with libraries. This commentary does not talk about the reduction in library resources or the pragmatic efforts underway to save them. They are rather very personal statements all stating the same idea that libraries have impacted and changed each and every one of their lives.

Based on the title of the book, I assumed that this entire book is about the love of libraries. It takes some re-adjusting to what this book is actually about - a love of libraries and a love of language itself with the obvious connection that libraries are a source and resource of language. An unusual approach to the subject, but it works.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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