Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore, by Paula Guran

libmeh's review

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Recommended for libraryfolk and bibliomanes. Includes some stellar short stories including "In the House of the Seven Librarians" and "Magic for Beginners."

thiefofcamorr's review

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This anthology is made up of reprints, taking from other anthologies or magazines such as Uncanny and Subterranean, so some you may have come across before. Of these, I've already read the shorts by Elizabeth Bear, Kelly Link, Scott Lynch, and Tansy Rayner Roberts - but as these are my favourite authors I eagerly reached for the rest. After all, what better subject than libraries.

Unfortunately I struggled with this anthology. Usually I love to review each story individually, but I didn't find myself able to have enough to discuss about each one. Please find following what I loved about a few of them. This is a steady anthology, one that has a beautiful cover and a few very excellent pieces in it, but unfortunately is not an easy collection to read through continuously (either in a week, or a few weeks).

In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

In a fitting start to the anthology we see a quaint proper library replaced with a new one that boasts proper fluorescent lighting and ergonomic chairs, and it's written with the kind of tone we can appreciate - a library isn't just a place with stacks of books, libraries that were our friends growing up are places of comfort - not sharp lines and electronics. Not all the books make it over, and for some reason the seven librarians remain in the old building also - and it's here they receive a late return. As we all know, late books require a fee to be paid, and this payment is quite odd indeed.

This is quite a lovely short - a little bit magical and a little bit of old comfort you instantly wish you were one of the librarians in their quiet comfort, or the lucky little bundle of payment. Reading this one was an excellent start to the anthology, and is so lovely in such a gentle way that it beautifully sets the tone.

The Books by Kage Baker

I love the premise of this - just like how I loved it in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - how in a not so distant future a rabble group of people travel the world to entertain and remind others of things so they can't be forgotten and lost to the ravages of time in a post-apocalyptic world.

This one is an excellent piece to broaden the anthology out. We start with a safe library we've always found comfort in as children with Klages' story first, and then Baker takes us out into the big unknown, and shows how stories are our constant, and the one thing we can't do without - up there with food, water and shelter.

In Libres by Elizabeth Bear

Euclavia has been instructed by her advisor that her thesis really needs another source. He recommends a full rare book, rather than a particular article, and this means she has to go to the library. To the Special Collections section in particular. And for this, she wants her oldest friend, Bucephalus, (a centaur) to come with her, as libraries are a cause for concern.

They arrive, and the librarian they meet both recommends against it, and asks whether she's done anything to earn the ire of her advisor - slept with the tutor's spouse, etc. 'Any reason for him to want you dead?' is literally asked.

This creates such a fantastic piece of work where librarians carry both sword and wand, and people like poor Eu who need to enter are instructed to bring a ball of twine, three days of food, a bedroll, no fire, no shoes on antique rugs, no pens (but pencil and notepaper are allowed)... though as a plus, there are first air and water stations wherever there are restrooms which is say, every five kilometers... however they all move around, so who knows, really.

Brilliant through each part, and Bear, I want a full novel of this, please.

Summer Reading by Ken Liu

'After mankind had scattered to the stars like dandelion seeds, Earth was maintained as a museum overseen by robot curators.'

We have CN-344315 as our protagonist. He last saw a human over five thousand years ago, but he still goes about his routine - just like our favourite Wall-e, and like him, he cares so much about what humans have left behind.

This short story is endlessly quotable, like a lot of what Liu writes. 'Data only lives when it is constantly copied.' 'Books are long alive when they're read.' 'For books are seeds, and they grow in minds.'


The Inheritance of Barnabas Wilcox by Sarah Monette

As one can guess from the title, Barnabas Wilcox has passed away, and his inheritance involves a country house to his nephew. One of the stipulations being that his library catalogue of an astounding number of books be finished - only his nephew doesn't know where to begin, so he writes to a boy he knew in school - one he was never close with, but he's the only one he knows who to turn to. And as Booth is in awe of the now deceased antiquary Lucius Wilcox, he agrees.

Like a good horror or murder mystery, the pieces slowly fall into place. The insane ramblings of the uncle. The abundance of a certain type of tree in the garden, and the horrid scratchings on the library door. I haven't yet read any of Monette's work but now I really, really want to.

What Books Survive by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Like some of the oldest and best fiction, space invaders have come. Now nothing electronic works, but as long as they stay behind their walls, the invaders seem to leave them pretty much alone. The only issue is that some houses have no or very few physical books, and along with half the houses (which means everyone has to squish in together), the shops, and the school (so now the town hall acts as the school also)... they left the library on the other side of the barricade. Something that 16yo Katie Marsden can't stand.

This is such a fun and wonderful piece - kids with gumption, and it tackles the hard questions. Such as 'Should I pick books [to save] because of posterity and shit like that, or should I just be selfish and save the ones I wanted to read?' Personally I reckon save the ones you want to read - life is too short if invaders have come.

Now Tansy is a fan of the kindle, as am I, but this certainly is a strong reason to be a fan of both mediums for sure.

The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar

This is such a clever piece that the least said about it, the better. Even if you pick up this book and flick to Amal's section first - totally worth it.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch

An old favourite. Fifth year exams for the High University of Hazar require the aspirants to enter the library and return with a library book.

Simple, right?

Well, the motto of the librarians here is: RETRIEVE. RETURN. SURVIVE.

Dressed in armour, equipped with swords and years of training, four of them are there to take the test. As one of the thankfully longer pieces in this anthology, we get such a fun romp of a tale where you see so much of their whole world even though we mostly see their sprawling library alone. Another piece that demands a full novel or ten. The language and dialogue makes anything by Lynch such a joy to read. The descriptions, witty banter - in many awful moods I've picked up something by Lynch and felt better within minutes - if only it could be bottled.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu

After college, a young girl returns to where she grew up to work in the library her father ran - as it's always felt like home, and other people don't make much sense anyway. She's had a feeling that she's always been looking for something, and she finally finds it in a slim volume of poetry, that's part of a collection donated by a family clearing out their father's estate.

This is a beautiful piece of work. 'It was still there, a slim volume squeezed between other books like a mysterious woman hiding in the attic.' Basically one can be assured that if Liu has translated it, then it's always going to be worth reading.

apolasky's review

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Thank you Netgalley and Diamond Book Distributors for the ARC!
Sci-Fi, Gothic, Mystery, Existential, you name it. This book touches on a variety of topics and genres, all revolving around the theme of books, libraries and librarians.
A book that is alive, another acts as a philosopher's stone, a baby as payment for a late return, witches, authors living after their deaths through their books, and much more.
Curious about my favorites? Find them in the full review

3.5 stars.

elentari7's review

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As a bibliophile and rabid library patron, I enjoyed this anthology :) As with any anthology, the quality is up and down; but there's a nice variety of stories in here, from high fantasy to urban fantasy to post-apocalyptic to hard scifi to horror to contemporary/magical realism. And while all are about the power of books, libraries, and librarians in some way, not all choose to deal with the same effects of that power. Some take you back to the dingy childhood libraries you miss even though their replacements were gorgeous; others take you forward to libraries which might exalt or intimidate or grow obsolete; others go sideways into libraries tinged with the weird, or unsettling, or overly prideful--or just magic. My personal favorite stories--and the feelings with which they approached books and libraries--were The Fort Moxie Branch, by Jack McDevitt (caution, for collectors, and encouragement, for writers); The Green Book, by Amal el-Mohtar (fear. Most definitely fear); Summer Reading by Ken Liu (hope, I think); Paper Cuts Scissors (both caution and love); Those Who Watch, by Ruthanna Emrys (love, awe, and fear); In Libres, by Elizabeth Bear (awe, academic frustration, and a large dose of zaniness); and In the House of the Seven Librarians (love and safety and nostalgia, but an awareness of the limitation, as well as the power, of the subject matter).

kellswitch's review against another edition

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I love books, I love libraries and I love books about books and libraries. And I genuinely love this book, it is easily one of my favorite anthology collections ever.
The tone of the stories was pretty varied, mostly whimsical, but there were stories that were more melancholy, stories that were dark and threatening, all of them touched on the magic and value of libraries and learning…and the dangers. Some knowledge comes with a steep price.
As with most short story collections there are a smattering of great, good, meh and just plain failures, but for me this collection tended to the great and the good more than the other two. I was introduced to several new authors, many of whom I plan on finding more works by, which is always exciting. I’m definitely looking forward to trying more anthologies by this editor.

rorikae's review against another edition

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This is an excellent collection, especially for people who love libraries and stories. It was intriguing to see how different authors could use the same setting or type of characters and create unique stories. I would highly recommend this collection to anyone who appreciates libraries or who has a love of books and storytelling.

apolasky's review against another edition

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Thank you Netgalley and Diamond Book Distributors for the ARC!
Sci-Fi, Gothic, Mystery, Existential, you name it. This book touches on a variety of topics and genres, all revolving around the theme of books, libraries and librarians.
A book that is alive, another acts as a philosopher's stone, a baby as payment for a late return, witches, authors living after their deaths through their books, and much more.
Curious about my favorites? Find them in the full review

3.5 stars.

thoroughlyme's review against another edition

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(2.5 out of 5)

I ended up not really caring for this anthology. It's not bad, per say. But it's not really that good either. A few of the stories are nice, particularly the first one, "In the House of Seven Librarians", but the rest failed to leave any kind of real impression on me. The quality of the shorts varied greatly, some being much better than others. But overall, the anthology itself was a bit of a trek to get through. It wasn't as enjoyable as I'd hoped it would be. Perhaps some will enjoy it, perhaps the writing styles of many of the shorts just weren't my cup of tea. But I didn't much care for it. It's not bad, it's just forgettable.

(I received a digital ARC of this book from Edelweiss in return for a fair review.)

catgv's review against another edition

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*I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

This collection of fantasy short stories explores the relationships of readers and librarians, the wonderful work librarians do, the fantastical places that libraries can be… and all of that mixed with lore.

Now, I must say this book really caught my interest when I first saw it! Stories about librarians, libraries, and lore in the same book? Count me in! Also, the Latin title got me. I think it speaks for the theme’s oldness, deep knowledge, and mystical air. The best thing about Ex Libris? It did not disappoint me – in fact, it even surprised me more than once!

Of all the book introductions I’ve read in my life, [a:Paula Guran|131337|Paula Guran|]’s one in Ex Libris is by far the best one out there yet (at least for passionate readers and anyone who loves libraries). She tells us of the different libraries and librarians from all genres in literature while punctuating it with excerpts. Her research must have taken her a long time… but I want to say it was well worth it and beautifully done. It’s an introduction I won’t forget anytime soon. As for the reading itself, it flows – it is engrossing and lovely. It also got me quite emotionally invested in the stories, characters, and life itself (I still haven’t figured out how it managed to do that with the last one, but it’s still a neat feat!). Moreover, I had a magical read! The stories (most of them) were very funny and amusing. It reminded me of the magic libraries hold and how time flies by when I’m reading. It is an enchanting and lovely book!

All the short stories in this collection have a varying degree of importance related to books and/or libraries – you never know what to expect except that these two elements will be there in some way or another. To what extent and use is the surprise of each story. Speaking of stories, they were quite imaginative. They even manage by some mysterious force to be believable (don’t ask me how, I’m still working on understanding it)! The voices of the many narrators are clear, distinct, and strong. I would have thought some stories would lack in voice… but I was shown wrong with this collection! Woven into the texts are amusing references to real books – it’s a nice addition and at the same time a necessity regarding the library theme.

The vocabulary used in these stories is diverse, beautiful, and precise. The short stories aren’t too long – I believe their length has been well measured as it makes for captivating enough without becoming boring. Some stories are drama, others are adventures, but all have a subtle touch of humor and are engaging in their own way. One thing is for sure: together, those short stories are an eclectic mix – although it is sometimes destabilizing, it is also quite pleasant, much like refreshing parts of the same whole. Another thing I particularly enjoyed about Ex Libris is how diverse the situations and characters are! Some are people of color while others have illnesses or handicaps. A much appreciated touch that helps make those weird (it’s a compliment here) stories more realistic! There is something different I noticed about the format of these short stories: they include subtitles related to books or libraries (like the widely used Dewey decimal system), quotes, and other fun things. It’s a great idea to make their format somehow fit their main theme! I also think they were well structured, which helps the reading experience by making it easier on the eye. Finally, I loved learning about the authors in the ‘’About the Authors’’ section at the end. At first, I thought this was a collection of short stories written by emerging authors, but oh no! They are all big names like [a:Holly Black|25422|Holly Black|], [a:Ray Bradbury|1630|Ray Bradbury|], and many others! It’s imposing and impressive.

You’re probably wondering where are the negative points, aren’t you? I was too, frankly… However, there are only two of those, which I am pretty sure are now fixed since the book has been released. I have found a few typos, additional and unneeded words, and sometimes forgotten conjugations. The other thing that bothered me (only slightly as the rest of the book was well worth my time spent reading it!) was how many repetitions there were. For example, in two close paragraphs the words ‘’soft’’ and ‘’softly’’ were used thrice. It happens here and there and, like in that example, it can pull you out of the story you’re reading. Those points aside, the book is pure entertainment with mysteries written in its pages.

The idea itself of a book about libraries and librarians wins numerous points with me. It hit home and I think it will do the same thing with other bookworms. In fact, it is a good fit for anyone who has a (secret) love of books and libraries and the people who help keep them in order. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5 because of the library theme, the quality of the stories, and also because I always wanted to resume reading it. I’m pretty sure all fantasy fans will find Ex Libris quite entertaining and worth their while since it has varied short stories – in other words, there is a short story for everyone in this amazing collection!

As a bonus, here’s my ranking of my favorite Ex Libris short stories:

1- In the House of the Seven Librarians by [a:Ellen Klages|24901|Ellen Klages|]

2- The Last Librarian by [a:Edoardo Albert|1387224|Edoardo Albert|]

3- Death and the Librarian by [a:Esther M. Friesner|33502|Esther M. Friesner|]

4- Special Collections by [a:Norman Partridge|56162|Norman Partridge|]

5- In Libres by [a:Elizabeth Bear|108173|Elizabeth Bear|]

Please note that all short stories had something unique to them and the ranking above is simply based on my personal tastes!