Photo by Chris Airiau
2021 Hugo Award Series – Short Story Category
Read Naomi Kritzer’s Little Free Library published by Tordotcom on April 8, 2020.
Minimal Spoiler Review
Little Free Library is at once a fantastic mystical tale set in modern-day St. Paul, Minnesota, and a DIY primer for building one.
A Little Free Library is an outdoor couple of bookshelves, guarded from the elements with a windowed cabinet door and a cute little rooftop, and sporting simple instructions: “take a book, return a book.” Like the protagonist Meigan does, many decorate their Little Free Library and register it online with the Charter.
Kritzer tells the story of Meigan and her perplexing exchanges with an unknown patron. At under 2500 words, talking about it without significant spoilers is difficult. But I can elaborate on the effect of its brevity.
Learn More about Naomi Kritzer.
Little Free Library is what I would consider a short-short story (though the definitions are not clear and especially not defined by silly ol’ me), which is not quite flash fiction, but carries the same impact. Successful flash fiction not only evokes a larger context, but make that greater story resonate in the reader.
Meigan’s frank kindness and fun-spirited curiosity forges a connection to the readers. And through Meigan’s experimentation and interiority, Kritzer delivers her character’s discoveries and resulting mystification. The exchanges build to a natural crescendo, and for such a short story, I—well…
Haha, this is getting way too super-vague. Read the story if you haven’t, and continue past the spoiler jump for more detailed comments.
Spoiler Content Below
For such a short story, I wasn’t expecting such a powerful pay-off. To be honest, I thought I was only one-third into the story by the time I reached the end. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible, “Aghh!” or something of the sort. I immediately re-read the story to pay closer attention to the details.
The patron asking for more Frodo was so good, right? As readers, we know something odd is going on, but as SFF readers, I mean, who doesn’t love sharing their favorite books with people who are about to have their minds blown? This story is stuffed with pleasant, joyful details like this.
For me, one of the main points of the story is to depict how libraries help people. Granted, the knowledge shared in Little Free Library is on how to successfully wage medieval war, but I’d argue this is an analogy. The existential conflict the patron fights outside the margins of the story serves to emphasize the need for society to provide vital knowledge to the community. A need for librarians. Creating a Little Free Library to share books is not only a celebration of this act of caring, but it’s also about building a community.
Kritzer’s mysterious patron becomes a part of Meigan’s community in St. Paul. The patron stands in for the unknown multitudes, the “invisible” people who may not know their options, who may feel they have no community. This story is an emphatic insistence that all people deserve assistance, they deserve empathy. This story compels its readers not to ignore “invisible” people, and to do what you can to help, to share.
In the end, the information Meigan gave could not save the patron. This climax is a painful reminder that facts and knowledge have begun to lose their worth. A perfect story for April 2020, and still resonant.
Yet, there is the egg. A symbol of hope. A representation of the care we must give to the next generation. Of all the effort we must yet expend.
A perfect ending is impossible to write, but Kritzer comes close with this one. Even though I would love to read more! Please, if you haven’t do yourself a favor and check it out.
– Chris Airiau
Read my reviews of other Hugo-nominated short stories: