Book Reviews

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

883235[1]“The exquisitely crafted stories in Anthony Doerr’s acclaimed debut collection take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape.

Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties-metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts-and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power.

Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.” ~Goodreads


These eight short stories from Anthony Doerr are some of the best I have ever read! How’s that for an endorsement?! After I read and loved All the Light We Cannot See, I had to check out this guy’s backlist. Glad I did.

Seriously, though. If you are not a fan of short stories because they can be confusing, leave you hanging, feel more choppy than the continuous-ness of a full novel, I get it. I’ve read some of those too. Fun, frivolous, sometimes a fantastical escape? I actually enjoy those as well. What can I say, I’m a huge fan of short stories and always on the lookout for an author who writes a collection to devour.

This one is impressive.

Like the synopsis from Goodreads, Doerr’s stories take place all over the world and focus on relationships and the human condition but all include another major character – nature. It felt like in each story the main character was first in love with nature before another person came into the picture to break them up. A love triangle between two people and the environment. So these all have A LOT of science jargon and obsessions with nature, the environment, animals and surprise-shells. He also writes the stories in a way that feel like myths but if you’re not much of a science geek, you might want to pass.

If you’ve given up on shorts, I encourage you to try again with this collection. Each and every one is written with such beauty and depth that instead of putting the book down between each one, I read straight through over several days. I was captivated and didn’t want to stop at one. The nice thing about this collection is that you can just read one, put the book down and continue on with your novel. The stories are not connected and do not have to be read in order. They all stand alone and are complete. No weird endings that stop abruptly. If you are still not convinced, I urge you to read the last story “Mkondo” at least. It’s gorgeous and still lingers in my mind.

The Shell Collector was published in 2001 but this timeless collection will be on my favorites list this year, no doubt. This man is just killing me with his words! Up next, Memory Wall.

8 thoughts on “The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

  1. Ha! You can’t add to my TBR list with *this* post because I already saw you rave about it on Twitter and previously added it to my TBR list. 🙂 Actually, I put a hold on it at the library and should have it soon. As someone who has a hard time with shorts, I’m really looking forward to it, it seems like it’s right in my wheelhouse. So thank you!

    • Haha! Like I said in the review, if you do have trouble with his collection, just skip ahead and read the last one-beautiful! I don’t have many friends who read short stories, so I am basically on my own here, but I’ve learned that you don’t have to read an entire collection. Like with Flannery O’Connor, I’ve only read a handful because she has soooo many! I really prefer the stand-alone shorts for that reason.

      • Keep the recommendations coming! I love it when I come across one (or a set) that I *can* seem to get and connect with, so I’m always willing to try. I just read Aftermath Lounge and loved it. But those stories were interconnected and I think that helps (me).

  2. Read Shell Collector over the weekend and you were spot on. I often have trouble with short stories, but this collection was fantastic. It made me more anxious to read All The Light We Cannot See. It’s funny, though, I read the first story and thought, “Why the hell did Marisa say to make sure and read this one? I don’t even get the ending.” So I kept wondering what I was missing. It was a beautiful story, but it was one of those that, for me, just ENDED. Kaput. Left me wondering why the story was told. Then I got to Mkondo and the lightbulb went on and I knew I had misremembered and you were talking about the last story and not the first. What a story that was! Thanks for highlighting this one for me, I really enjoyed it.

    • YAY!!!!!! So glad you enjoyed the collection. I agree that not all the stories in a collection are great but read somewhere that when a publisher puts the collection together (unless they are chronological) they start and end with strongest stories. Cliffhangers or not. I think the problem with shorts are just that…short. You get invested in a story and then it ends before the reader is ready. But I’m going to try and remember the ones that stick out and recommend those if anything, like Mkondo. Give All The Light a go. I’m so glad that it won the Pulitzer because it is an accessible read-if that makes sense. Many award winners have fallen flat for me and make me feel like I’m not a great reader with the dense language that needs to be dissected at every turn. This one, not at all.

      • I DID enjoy it, very much so. Interesting about the strongest stories at beginning and end, because while I liked the first story I ended up wondering what the hell the point was. I thought the dude was going to end up getting his sight back or something. There were several in the middle that were just as nutty that enjoyed even more, but there really wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. Great recommendation. I have had the ebook of All The Light for some time and just haven’t gotten to it, but I will for sure.

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