Changes and Ceremonies: RA and Alice Munro

It's all going according to plan...

It’s all going according to plan…

Let’s take a break to discuss a challenge too many of our libraries face — we have run out of copies of books by Alice Munro. Of course, readers eager to experience Canada’s champion writer can always read samples of her short stories online, but that’s not enough for many readers.

Readers’ Advisory for Alice Munro is difficult, and I have a confession: I’m not entirely sure I’ve read a short story of Alice Munro’s unless you count an extract during my English 12 Provincial – which I think is only fair that we do, but I digress. I’ve been playing a grand game of catch-up here, and I’m happy to I share what I’ve found.

Let’s begin with what I knew of Alice Munro as a Canadian who has (probably) not read Alice Munro: She wrote critically acclaimed short stories set in a small town in the… Maritimes? Her stories were mostly about the internal lives of girls and women living in these modest surroundings. The plots of her short stories were more character-driven than action driven, and for some reason I was certain that one of her stories featured a woman who was burnt to death by a lantern.

I was wrong about the Maritimes (Huron County, Ontario is Alice Munro’s jam) but otherwise the bare facts are mostly right. However, the more I’ve read, the more I realized that I had a very shallow understanding of her work. There are many articles that reflect how deeply her readers are impacted by her writing. This article from the Toronto Star is an excellent example, as is this piece from Book Riot. Read-alikes seem almost like a mechanical response to works so particular and personal. And if I recommend Margaret Atwood, how badly will the patron give me the fish-eye?

As individual as Munro’s work is, a list of similar writers can be a useful starting point. Writers recommended by Novelist include Edith Pearlman and Elizabeth Hay. There are also several other recommendation lists to be found online, such as the one on Vancouver Public Library‘s Reader’s Cafe

Non-Fiction is also an option. Halifax Public Library’s Readers’ Advisory Blog has a brief post that discusses supplementary materials for Munro’s works, including biographies and critical essays. One might also consider non-fiction titles and/or memoirs that cover similar settings or issues as Munro’s.

I’ve found in my grand game of catch-up several interesting articles that examine what Munro’s win means for different areas in lit. The Millions has published a Beginners Guide to Canadian Lit and The Globe and Mail took the opportunity to celebrate the short story.

For readers intrigued by Munro more for her critical acclaim than for her style, we can point out Lynn Coady, whose short story collection of Hellgoing has recently won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. For readers looking for other Canadians who won international awards, we could also point to titles like Ondaatje‘s The English Patient, Martel‘s Life of Pi, Atwood‘s Blind Assassin, Shield‘s Larry’s Party, or Michael‘s Fugitive Pieces.

Libraries can also consider programs to bolster Munro-Mania. For instance, the Guildford Branch of Surrey Libraries is featuring a drop-in book club on Alice Munro’s Dear Life.

How would you approach a readers’ advisory interview with a reader new to Alice Munro?

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