Alexis M. Smith: Glaciers (2012)


The books I enjoy the most connect me to something inside of me which is elusive and hard to reach because it deals with those fleeting feelings that are hard to put into words, those emotions which escape before we can describe them. Glaciers is a book like that. It has a dreamlike quality but at the same time the descriptions are crispy-fresh, delicate but with sharp contours; the writing is cool but never cold, fragrant but not overpowering.

I hadn’t heard of Alexis M Smith before reading the review of Glaciers on Litlove’s blog (here). Smith is one of the Tin House New Voices and since Tin House is the only magazine I read regularly I was particularly keen to discover this author.

Summarizing this book isn’t doing it any justice. Not much happens. It’s pure slice of life writing. The book describes a day in the life of library worker Isabelle.  She was born in Alaska, dreams of going to Amsterdam but lives in Portland of which she says

“Walking home, she thinks Amsterdam must be a lot like Portland. A slick fog of a city in the winter, drenched in itself. In the spring and summer; leafy undulating green, humming with bicycles, breeze-borne seeds whirling by like galaxies. And in the early glorious days of fall, she thinks, looking around her, chill mist in the mornings, bright sunshine and halos of gold and amber for every tree.”

We follow her through a whole day, see her small rituals at work, her love for vintage clothes and postcards, her dreamlike states in which she imagines another life for herself and for other people. She’s in love with Stoke but he doesn’t seem to love her back. She meets her best friend Leo and they spend an evening at a party with quirky artists and actors and they all tell each other stories.

In a few flashbacks we learn about Isabelle’s past, her family, her passions, her fears. In only one day Isabelle experiences more emotions than many people in months. There is happiness and love, despair and disappointment, hope and elation, fun and routine. And stories, stories, stories.

I’ve read similar stories but what really makes Glaciers stand out is the writing. Smith uses almost no conjunctions, the sentences are stripped of anything superfluous but it still feels colourful, albeit in a gauzy kind of way. It’s the bookish equivalent of cherry blossoms. Am I making any sense? Be it as it may,  I really hope many of you are going to read this little marvel and will enjoy it as much as I did.

44 thoughts on “Alexis M. Smith: Glaciers (2012)

    • She’s made me discover an amazing amount of books this year. I think it’s the third or the fourth book I’ve read afer seeing her review.
      You can read it in English, just in case. It’s well written but not complicated.

  1. You have made Glaciers sound very enticing, Caroline. I’ve read similar character studies where the plot is secondary to the story and sometimes they don’t hold my interest. The writing has to be so spot on to make readers keep turning the pages. It sounds like Glaciers did just that. I’ll put this one on my TBR list!

    • I’d be so interested to hear your thoughts. It’s the writing that makes this special. Each chpater has a title and almost works like a little story but it’s still a novel.

  2. I actually really like new books that are not so plot driven. While there is nothing wrong with a story that is eventful, as a society, we seem to have lost the some appreciate for books that are mostly about writing and character.

    • I think that was pretty much what Litlove wrote. I don’t like just random scenes but these are all small peks into her life, her thoughts. And she’s an appealing character. IMaginative, dreamy, observant.

    • I could imagine you’d like it. She writes like a photographer, you know, with a keen eye for detail.
      Tin House is published four times a year and it’s fantastic. The alternate between a season number without theme and a themed number. They include famous and new writer’s short stories, poems, interviews, reviews of forgotten books and the magazine is very stylish, artists design the cover. I was so glad they sent it over here. And it’s not expensive for you in the US.

      • I thought this comment about Glaciers (on was interesting:

        “…this book is a pleasure to hold. The pages are formatted like a book of poetry, with space on the page to give you time to think. The edges of the pages are soft with that slight unevenness that make it a pleasure to touch.”

        Sometimes the Kindle just isn’t the same.

        Will definitely look into the magazine.

        • Yes, that exactly how the books feels. I got the Tin House edition but from the cover Litlove added I saw that there is another one around. Maybe the UK one? Since I order over Germany I usually receive the US books or can order both. I think it’s crucial in this case. The book as object is lovely.
          Tell me how you like Tin House. The do a digital version as well now but like with the book, the paper is so nice. It’s worth ordering that.

          • Oh, I thought you were getting British versions. I looked at and that cover is mostly green with a woman on a bicycle. I wonder now if the pages are in the same style.

            I have tried reading digital magazines and found it tedious for some reason. Will probably order the paper version.

  3. Oh I think this is a book I should read. Not only for the story but for the style. I love reading books that are experimental. Not sure this is the right word.

  4. As I go round the book blogs, it strikes me how different are the people, like yourself, and the reviewers of and commentators on books in newspapers etc. Reading their articles you would think the novel was on life support. In contrast, your writing is enthusiastic, quirky and full of life. Thank you for such a refreshing antidote to the professional voices of doom.

  5. I checked this out from the library when it was first released but it unfortunately went back unread. Then when I read Litlove’s review I checked it out a second time and now it sits on my library pile. Now I see you also loved it so maybe this weekend I wil finaly crack it open and start reading! 🙂 It does have lots of appeal for me, too! And I love slice of life sorts of stories–thanks for the gentle nudge.

    • It’s a very quick read, I’m sure once you’ve started it you’ll finish it pretty much in one or two sittings. I’m sure you’ll like it as well.
      I’m looking forward to read what you think of it.

  6. Loved your review, Caroline! This book has many things that I love – the main character works in a library, the story happens in Portland, it is a slice-of-life book, the physical book is a work of art and an object to be loved – what is not to like 🙂 I am going and getting this now! I think one of my best friends who is a librarian will love this too. I think I should get her a copy too. I didn’t know about Tin House magazine. From your description it looks wonderful. Thanks for telling us about it.

    Thanks for this beautiful review, Caroline. Thanks to you, I am discovering one more beautiful book this year 🙂

    • Thanks, Vishy, I’m glad you liked it. I hope you will enjoy the book and look at Tin House magazine. It’s a really amazing magazine. I’m looking foward to every issue.
      I hope you get the Tin House edition of Glaciers and not the other one.
      I’m looking forward to hear what you think of it. I know, you mentioned Portland before. It really sounds like a beautiful city.

      • I made it a point to order the Tin House edition of the book, Caroline, after reading your conversation with pearlsandprose. Thanks for gushing about Tin House magazine. I don’t read many magazines, but have been thinking that I should subscribe to a literary magazine sometime. Now after reading your thoughts on Tin House magazine, I am thinking that maybe I should subscribe to it. Do they have four issues annually or eight issues? They seem to have two options on their subscription page and I got a little bit confused and was thinking of writing to them. Yes, Portland is a beautiful city (though I have never been there and have only read about it and seen pictures). One of my best friends lives there and she tells me about it often. Now it feels like I have actually lived there 🙂

        • I’m glad you’ll get the right one. 🙂 I ordered it last year and there was a bit of a mess up but they are very kind and answer e-mails withing a day or so. I thougth there were 4 issues but of course, you are right there are 8. Four seasonal and four themed issues.
          The quality is amazing. And they even look good, each has a nice color, very thick paper. I’ve looked at other literary magazines, in other coutries too and this was the one I liked best. I should do a separate post on it one day. They deserve being known. They also publish short story anthologies.

          • I am sorry to know that there was some trouble while you were getting the book last year. But glad to know that you got the edition you liked.

            It is interesting that Tin House magazine has four regular issues and four themed issues. Nice to know that you compared it with other literary magazines and liked it the best. I hope you do a separate post on it. I will look forward to reading it.

  7. Oh I’m so glad you liked it! I couldn’t agree more – it’s the writing that makes it, and your analogy of cherry blossoms is lovely. I know just what you mean! There’s something delicate and beautiful, rich but fragile about the novel.

  8. You’re right! the summary doesn’t sound intriguing, I guess once we read it, we know what makes it good.

    I really like your opening line to describe the book 🙂 :

    It has a dreamlike quality but at
    the same time the descriptions are crispy-
    fresh, delicate but with sharp contours; the
    writing is cool but never cold, fragrant but
    not overpowering.

  9. Pingback: Book Review – Glaciers by Alexis Smith | Vishy's Blog

  10. Pingback: Best Books of 2013 | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  11. “Cherry blossoms” – I like that, very much. It’s amazing, I discovered this book via Vishy’s blog who saw it on your blog and you read a review of it on Litlove’s blog. I love these “book-chains”. 🙂
    And I loved the book as well.

    • I had a similar thought about “book-chains”. 🙂 I like that as well but it’s not often that I see a book passed on like this.
      I’m glad in this case because it’s not a “ig bestseller type novel.

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