Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith [in Library Journal]
The dozen stories in Ali Smith’s (How To Be Both) latest collection share a common characteristic: a contagious sense of wordplay, from obscure etymology (“buxom” originally meant “obedient, compliant, gracious”) in “Last,” to multiple meanings of “fraud” linking D.H. Lawrence to credit card theft in “The Human Claim,” to faulting a long-dead author in a failing contemporary marriage in “The Ex-Wife.” In between stories, Smith adds interludes from friends and writers who exalt the power of words, books, and especially public libraries, which provide the access to such literary treasures.
On the page, Smith’s collection is delightfully intriguing; as narrator, the author’s across-the-pond accent lilts and charms. Despite all the right elements, however, sometimes good books don’t properly translate from paper to ears. The printed North American version includes Smith’s “greeting,” which provides imperative context about the UK’s loss of public libraries and why that matters; that greeting is missing from the audio edition. Additionally, text changes (from italic to not) that signal breaks between stories and interludes are easily seen in print but lost here.
Verdict: Having multiple formats might be a luxury few institutions can afford; if choice is necessary, paper proves the worthier option.
Published: 2015 (United Kingdom); 2016 (United States)