Occasionally while browsing Barnes and Nobel, I’ll stumble upon one of those “Buy Two Get One Free” sales. Usually stock-piled with classic fiction and old best-sellers, these sales usually don’t yield many great results for me.
But one day, while browsing said sale, I found two books I actually wanted to read…and buy at full price! Better yet, that meant I could pick one more book for “free”…my eyes darted all over the tiny table, reading over each cover again and again to find the perfect hidden gem.
Between copies of The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby, I saw this book speckled with sea shells. I picked it up and glanced at the back cover. The Los Angeles Times called this book “a show-stopping debut”. The New York Times said this book “…dazzles…blending the naturalist’s unswerving gaze with the poet’s gift for metaphor.” The Boston Globe claimed the book was “…breathtaking…perilously beautiful.” I was intrigued.
Written by Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015, The Shell Collector captured my attention. I was instantly reminded of my grandma, who used to collect sea shells, while looking at the cover…and the description of this collection of short stories appealed to the part of me that wanted to connect deeply with nature and my natural environment. I chose The Shell Collector for my freebie.
This was probably 3 years ago.
This book has been sitting on my shelf ever since…waiting to be read…teasing me with its inviting cover and powerful newspaper reviews. It’s moved to a new apartment with me, unread, unopened, unloved. After a recent purge of old books and old clothes, I stumbled upon The Shell Collector again. Since getting this book for free, my shell-collecting grandma passed away…and I found myself thinking of her again while looking at the cover. I set aside the book I was reading and dove in.
The first story, aptly titled “The Shell Collector”, left me feeling like Alice falling down the tunnel into Wonderland. With beautiful language and description, I was dreamily transported to another world, watching this story unfold in front of my eyes. Descriptions of items and landscapes seemed to come to live in my head – I could smell the ocean, I could see the shells.
Like any short story collection, I found some stories better than others, but overall this book was beautifully written. Readers are whisked away to the African coast, plopped down in the pine forests of Montana, then taken to the damp moors of Lapland. When read slow and steady, these stories paint a true-to-life portrait of landscapes unseen by most of us…and bring to life characters we, in one way or another, can relate to on many levels.
Though the theme of nature gently weaves a vine through all of these stories, each story also explores the human condition in all its varieties – change of heart, grief, broken relationships, mending relationships. Some characters deal with life-altering hardships, others discover that they have unique gifts. But through all of their travels and discoveries, the characters in this collection are ultimately united by their connection to the mysteries of the universe that lies outside themselves.
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.