This intimate and moving short story collection from Briscoe (Mexico at the Hour of Combat) offers quick glimpses into the lives of several characters, mostly older men who are attempting to reconcile the growing incongruity between their desires and their reality. The gripping title story—more of a novella—draws on Briscoe’s 30 years of experience as a university librarian to explore what will become of the world’s libraries as we hurtle towards an increasingly digital future. Books begin disappearing from an obscure Ecuadorian library, prompting an investigation into how knowledge is stored and transferred–as well as who can access this essential record of human history.
Briscoe’s appraisals of the changing library world will resonate with readers. “The modern library is not about knowledge as contained in books, but information retrieval, which is so much more efficient,” he writes. The three additional stories rounding out the collection are much shorter than his title work, but still insightful—similar to meditative vignettes. In “After You, Please,” a retired man takes stock of his life and contemplates his own mortality. As he is preparing to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, the thought of dressing up fills him with existential dread: “He would need to buy a new suit, and that would be the one they would bury him in. How could he enjoy wearing it? Instead of fine feathers, it would feel like a shroud.”
With spare but impactful prose, Briscoe has crafted a gently provocative collection of stories that also functions as a love letter to literacy and libraries, whose admirable mission–as he puts it with characteristic incisive power– is nothing less than “to collect, organize, preserve, and make accessible the recorded knowledge of mankind.” In particular, Briscoe’s title novella will serve as a conversation starter for anyone who loves books and is interested in preserving the past.
Takeaway: Briscoe’s gripping stories explore the future of libraries in an increasingly digital age.
Great for fans of: Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women, Tom Diamond’s The Academic Librarian in the Digital Age: Essays on Changing Roles and Responsibilities.
Production grades Cover: B+ Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: B+