By Alexis M. Smith

(Tin House, $10.95, 112 pages)

Who is this author?

One of the joys of writing a books blog is having the opportunity to introduce readers to writers of what are called “mid-list” books: works of literary merit that don’t get the full star treatment from publishers, yet often offer a wonderful reading experience. Alexis Smith, a bi-coastal writer who grew up in Alaska and Seattle and attended Mount Holyoke College and the MFA in Writing program at Goddard College, is that kind of author.

“Glaciers” is her first novel. Here’s what she told a Barnes & Noble interviewer about why she chose that title:

“My generation came of age at the same time as the idea of global warming…For me, having grown up in spitting distance of actual glaciers, the idea of glaciers disappearing was shocking. Glaciers seemed like living things, to me: they grow each year, or at least did for millennia; they move and have their own inertia; they are record keepers, time capsules; and they have shaped the earth’s surface over time.

“All of those things can also be said for human beings. Human populations moving over the planet, over centuries, have shaped the earth with cities and infrastructure, mining, etc. We move where the resources and food are, carrying things with us, leaving other things behind. The glaciers had their day in shaping the planet, and now we are having ours. It just so happens that all of these cycles eventually come to an end, and ours is of our own making. Isabel is reckoning with the intersection of those stories: the smaller human stories (loves, losses, change), and the bigger historical and environmental stories (wars, natural disasters).

“I was worried for a long time that the title was too oblique, that it would come off as pretentious — or worse, too sober — for a story about a girl who really just wants to find the perfect dress and win the love of her work crush. But, somehow, it always felt like the only title that would do.”

What is this book about?

It’s a one-day-in-the-life-of story, in this case, of Isabel, a woman in her 20s who repairs old books for a living and haunts vintage clothing and memorabilia shops, looking for wonderful old dresses and postcards from faraway cities, such as Amsterdam, which she idealizes. Isabel makes up romantic stories to go with those postcards, but in real life, she is smitten with a solider home from Iraq who fixes her computer at work. Isabel is shy and tentative about asserting herself and the book presents her on the cusp of moving from her delicate fantasies into a life more grounded in reality.

Why you’ll like it:

“Glaciers” is written in a simple yet lyrical style, with the text surrounded by plenty of white space on the page, appropriately reminiscent of the way poetry is printed. The short time frame – just one day – compresses the story of Isabel’s life and gives it a powerful immediacy. You can think of this book as functioning as vintage postcards do: fascinating images coupled with intriguing messages that suggest a much longer and deeper story than their relatively few words convey.

What others are saying:

“A delicate and piercing first novel. “Glaciers” is like a vintage dress: charming, understated and glinting with memories of loneliness and love,” says Jane Mendelsohn, author of “I was Amelia Earhart” and “American Music.”

“The story ostensibly covers a single day, but Isabel’s recorded memories reach back to childhood, with incidents in between like a camping trip, an interaction with an astrologer, and a consequential encounter with an immense glacier… This slim book’s lovely design respects and enhances Smith’s voice… Lyrical and luminous,” says Publishers Weekly.

“How appropriate that on the last page of this spare, beautifully written first novel, one character asks another, “Tell us a story—about longing.” For longing defines the life of Isabel … Not for those who like big, splashy reads, this book is just the thing for more meditative readers who savor language and quiet reflection,” says Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal.

When is it available?

It is on the shelf in the new books section of the Downtown branch of the Hartford Public Library.

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