Public Library and Other Stories

4 CDs. 4:14 hrs. Books on Tape. Oct. 2016. ISBN 9781524723170. $30. digital download. SHORT STORIES
The dozen stories in twice Booker-short-listed (Hotel World; How To Be Both) Smith's latest collection share a common characteristic: a contagious sense of wordplay. Obscure etymology ("buxom" originally meant "obedient, compliant, gracious") in "Last" and multiple meanings of "fraud" link D.H. Lawrence to credit card theft in "The Human Claim" and fault a long-dead author in a failing contemporary marriage in "The Ex-Wife." In between stories, Smith includes interludes from friends and writers who exalt in 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, Smith's over-the-pond accent lilts and charms. Despite all the right elements, however, sometimes good books don't quite translate from paper to ear. 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; in the recording that greeting is omitted. Additionally, text changes (from italic to Roman) that visually signal breaks between stories and interludes are easily seen in print but get impossibly lost here.
VERDICT Having multiple media might be a luxury few institutions can afford; if choice is necessary, paper proves the worthier option. ["Original and always surprising": LJ 9/1/16 review of the Anchor: Doubleday hc.
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