What You Are Looking for is in the Library, by Michiko Aoyama, and translated by Alison Watts, is a book of sweet and gentle interlocking short stories around a library where the reading recommendations are always just what each reader needed to find. This book has the overall vibe of the gentle healing of Before The Coffee Gets Cold, but with a magical realism hint, instead of full-on time-travel fiction. It has all the quiet warmth and gentle realizations of a good Maeve Binchy novel, too.
The basic Hatori Community House offers everyday resources like computer classes and meeting rooms for locals. The librarian, Sayuri Komachi, gives personal reading recommendations and a charming felted bonus gift to patrons. These readers might think they’re just looking for a regular how-to book about playing Go or building a website, but these special recommended books have a little bit extra, opening new perspectives for the readers.
Each story is about a person feeling disappointed in their life. We first meet a twentysomething retail worker, who’s proud of making it to a job “in fashion” in the big city, but also wonders if the repetitive, lonely work is all there is for her. When she visits the library to learn more about computers and maybe improve her career prospects, she also checks out an old favorite children’s book, which starts to unlocks new ideas, new perspectives, and new habits for her. It’s a charming and gentle transformation, without any insta-makeover or too-easy conclusions.
So I read What You Are Looking for is in the Library at exactly the right time for me (but honestly, aren’t we always learning to better cope with setbacks?) and as I was reading, I could sort of feel that this book is about to be big. It’s very easy to read, with a warm, gentle atmosphere in each short story. The stories have positive resolutions, but not overwhelmingly so, so there’s a wonderfully relatable feeling, as if the same kind of hopeful, warm perspective is just a book away for all of us.
Another visitor to the library has a private dream of opening an antique store, and being surrounded by beautiful treasures all day, but fears leaving his stable, unexciting job for a completely new venture. An unemployed and lonely young man faces the deeply relatable situation of being creative and skilled enough to get into art school, but not skilled enough to land the great jobs his classmates got after graduation. New mother Natsumi has lost her career path and her free time when her daughter was born, and she tries to make sense of being the default parent for a thousand tiny concerns, and finding her once-meaningful work on the mommytrack. And after these stories of work and identity, a newly retired man wonders what his life and identity will be without his career at the center.
Without too much of a spoiler, I have to say that I loved one character’s path to a new career. In fiction, we often find a great new job opportunity, and the deadline to apply is almost here! Then the character takes the risks and goes for it and of course they get it, right? So I particularly liked that even with the magical realism of the library, our character didn’t automatically get the first job she applied to.
What You Are Looking for is in the Library is short and spare, with more implied than shown directly to readers. With these short, interconnected stories, the book introduces us to complicated and relatable characters, and shows them struggling to find contentment and fulfillment. There is also a theme of being kind to others, of being a good friend or a loving parent or child. This is a warm and encouraging book for any reader.
What You Are Looking for is in the Library will published by Hanover Square Press on September 5, 2023.