Book Review: Public Library (and other stories) by Ali Smith



by Ali Smith




Ah, Ali Smith… Ali Smith is one of those rare writers that a reader can depend on; you can depend on her stories being just as intimate, funny, witty, and inventive as the ones you read  several years ago, without them feeling old or passé, but always fresh.

Public Library is in some ways a collection of love letters to literature, intertwined with interviews of other writers on the importance of public libraries to their local communities. Sometimes, this thread connecting the stories seems hard to see, but it’s always there in the details, in those moments when the characters are momentarily frozen in time, alone with their reflections.

There’s one story about a man who was falsely reported dead by his local newspaper – twice! – and another one about a relationship going through a difficult time because of an academic obsession with Katherine Mansfield. There’s a story about trying to find a home, and another one about the mystery of DH Lawrence’s ashes. They all feel like snippets of self reflection, and quasi-epiphanic moments of discovering little things about being alive today, but with a touching intensity.

In between these stories, you find beautiful passages by authors like Kate Atkinson, Jackie Kay, and Sarah Wood. These passages about public libraries read sometimes as declarations of love, and sometimes as elegies about the slow and painful – to bookworms like us – extinction of these places of learning and sanctuary. One of my favorite passages is from Richard Popple:

Libraries are, at heart, helpful and kind providers. It is hard for those who perhaps don’t feel the need to visit their local libraries to understand what a vital service they provide for communities and individuals who do – and those who do are often the most vulnerable. […] It is the poorest, most isolated and the least able in our society who suffer most if they are gone. So if our society does not care for libraries, then it is not caring for its most vulnerable.

I find it hard to come up with a writer working today who regularly puts out short stories that are so urgent, innovative, heartfelt, and most importantly, necessary, who could stand on the same level as Ali Smith. To put it simply, she has done it again. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone can really afford not reading Ali Smith today. If you haven’t yet, I’d say this collection is a good place to start.



BA English Literature, MSc Publishing. Passionate about contemporary literature, noir comics, beautifully shot films, and whiskies that are old enough to order their own whiskies. Can bore you to death with La La Land songs, Hollywood trivia, George Carlin references, and extensive knowledge on Leonard Cohen.