The only Ali Smith offering I have clear memories of is Hotel World, but Goodreads assures me I also rated Girls Meets Boy and The First Person and Other Stories solid 4/5s back in 2011-12. (A book has to be truly spectacular to earn a 5 from me, so those 4s were highly respectable ratings.) With this in mind, I was excited to see Public Library and Other Stories available on NetGalley, and even more excited to be accepted for a review copy.
Public Library is a love-letter to libraries at a time when they’re at risk of becoming an endangered species. Between each story, Smith includes musings from herself and others – writers, friends, members of the public – who reminisce on what libraries have meant to them and the difference they’ve made to their lives. These sections stirred some long-lost memories of childhood trips to the town library, leaving with foot-high stacks of books clutched between chest and chin. Sure there were a lot of Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Highs in those stacks, but there was something special about the tickets, the stamps, the choice. These days I’m a convenience kind of girl who never leaves the house without my Kindle, but Public Library awoke a desire to return to that self same library. The checkout desk might have been replaced by self-scans, but the expanded horizons remain unchanged.
The stories themselves did less for me. Smith writes beautifully, that much is undoubtedly true. Her words are well chosen, and many of her characters share a love of well-chosen words. But. But. You know when you listen to a song that sweeps you along, that sounds beautiful, but when you listen to the lyrics you struggle to find the meaning behind them? You’re sure there were deep and profound things going on in the songwriter’s life, but without that context you remain a bystander, one step divorced from the heart of it all? That’s how Public Library made me feel. My favourite story was definitely the last, about a couple dwelling on a strange dream of Dusty Springfield. In retrospect though, many of the other swept over me so thoroughly I already have little memory of them.
[Read from 30 September-3 October 2016]