The Shell Collector: Stories

by Anthony Doerr

Paperback, 2011

Call number




Scribner (2011), 240 pages


"In this debut collection, Anthony Doerr takes readers from the African coast to the suburbs of Ohio, from sideshow pageantry to harsh wilderness survival, charting a vast and varied emotional landscape. Like the best storytellers, Doerr explores the human condition in all its manifestations: metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts. Most dazzling is Doerr's gift for conjuring 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 their respective landscapes." "In "The Hunter's Wife," a hunter's profession is challenged when he learns that his wife can communicate with animal spirits. "For a Long Time This Was Griselda's Story" features two sisters in Idaho struggling to come to terms with the very different paths they have chosen, one traveling the globe with a sideshow and one remaining with her mother in their hometown. In "July 4th," a group of wealthy Americans enters a bet with a gang of British sportsmen: the first side to land the largest freshwater fish on each of the continents wins. The title story describes a blind marine biologist who isolates himself in a thatch-roofed kibanda in Kenya, only to be thrust into the spotlight when he accidentally discovers the cure for a fatal disease. Like all of Doerr's stories, it shimmers with beautiful language and transports readers to a perfectly realized, magical world of his own creation." --Book Jacket.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member fieldnotes
This collection starts strong, then it starts to seem like this guy's instrument doesn't have too many strings and then he tries to write about Africans.The first three stories are memorable and rewarding, pleasantly removed from day-to-day circumstances and romantically committed to unlikely
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pairings and second shots--"So Many Chances" I might read again just for pleasure. But, Doerr is hung up on female characters who aren't human (or female)--one dimensional fantasy objects for boy poets who haven't come to terms with loving anyone that doesn't act, move and think like a man. They are too captivating and convenient, magical and false.

And he can't write about Africans for shit. In fact, his attempts were almost offensive. If this was 1700 and Africa was still the unknown, he could people it with barbarians and alienated semi-adapted, cerebral metaphors; but it isn't and his African stories ("The Caretaker" and "Mkondo"), while perhaps well structured and rewarding to interpret, use foreignness as a blocking device to protect characters who act in unlikely but memorable ways. When he lightens up, ("July Fourth"--oily feel to it, and "For a Long Time This Was Griselda's Story") he can sound a bit like a more self-conscious Lewis Nordan, which is weird but good. Doerr has potential; but he needs to branch out and stop projecting his fantasies on real things.

Lastly, you must like fishing and people isolated in the back country in an Annie Dillard sort of way to get enjoyment from this at all. There are no cities or social settings that involve more than two people in conversation at once (pretty much).
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
One of my favorite short story collections to date, and an introduction to a wonderful author. I gave this book 5-stars because every one of the eight stories is strong, thoughtful, interesting and a cut above many, many of the short stories out there today. This guy can write! Wow, how beautiful
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that is. He also seems to have wisdom of an artist well beyond his years. It also felt like they were each meticulously researched ... little worlds devoted to fly fishing, photography, the study of shells, fossils, winter in Montana; and the myriad of life forms that surround us all. So maybe that is the one caveat, one must love the thought of nature, and the site of our living, as a powerful influence over our emotions and lives. Doerr is right up there with some of my favorite nature writers, yet he does it in such a way to also introduce us to amazing, yet every day, characters who live amidst his vision of nature. I also think this book had a lot to say about love, and the differences and similarities that draw two people together and also, are they things that can drive them apart. And how sometimes, letting go of someone you love, is the biggest gift one can give, but also how we all sacrifice for the people we love. I loved all the stories, so I am not sure I had a favorite, but if I had to, I would choose "Mkondo" (about an unassuming academic of fossils who literally runs into a woman he loves in Tanzania while searching for a "dead bird" - an absolutely beautiful, intelligent and surprising love story). Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member michaelmurphy
Doerr's excellent collection of short stories transports us from the coast of Kenya to the Montana winter, from Liberia in West Africa to Oregon, from Tanzania to Ohio. Three of the best for this reader are the title story "The Shell Collector", "The Hunter's Wife" and "Mkondo" where the characters
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Doerr creates exist in natural worlds suffused with a power that is palpable. Add "The Caretaker" and you have four mesmerising stories from a very powerful creative imagination.

In "The Shell Collector", Doerr draws inspiration from the world of science. The blind collector trawls the beaches and coral reefs of Kenya, his retreat from the world, spending his time sifting through the sand granules in search of rare shell specimens, his life long study - but his private world is overturned when he happens on a cure for malaria, strangely enough from the lethal poison of a cone snail. Soon, he is overrun by relatives of the sick and other outsiders when word quickly spreads about the miracle cure. . . . . . "The Hunter's Wife" has the gift of psychic commune with the spirits of earth's creatures and this poses a challenge to their life together in the harsh Montana winterscape. . . . . . In "Mkondo", Doerr explores the theme of people caught between different cultures: a newly married couple from the rainforests of Tanzania and the suburbs of Oregon respectively, discover how love can first blossom - and then wither, depending on where they are: "She was learning that in her life everything - health, happiness, even love - was subject to the landscape". . . . . ."The Caretaker", a refugee from civil war in Liberia, now in Oregon, struggles to recover from the trauma of witnessing atrocities and being forced to carry out an execution.

Another story,"A Tangle By The Rapid River" is reminiscent of some hunting stories in Annie Proulx's "Heartsong's and other stories", an excellent collection of gritty stories set in rugged country. Both books strongly recommended.
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LibraryThing member cait815
Favorite stories were The Caretaker, Mkondo, and So Many Chances
LibraryThing member rosies
well-written, interesting collection of stories; not sure what to make of them
LibraryThing member lisa.isselee
I love the fact that all the stories have nature as the main theme.
I had some favorites amount them, and all the others were not entirely my cup of tea.
I especially like The Shell Collector and The Hunters Wife.
Still enjoyed reading most of the book.
LibraryThing member klburnside
I really like Anthony Doerr a lot, and I enjoyed most the stories in this collection thoroughly. Some stories were better than others, and my favorites came towards the end.
LibraryThing member msf59
It is no secret, that I am a fan of All the Light We Cannot See, so I was interested in exploring some of his earlier work, including his first story collection, from 2003. Not a surprise- the guy can write. He grabs you right away with the title story, featuring a blind malacologist, who finds joy
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in collecting shells. Doerr shifts effortlessly, from the Kenyan coast, to an Ohio suburb, to the wilds of Montana, in these various tales. He also has a deep understanding and passion, for nature and the outdoors. Some stories are stronger than others but this is a satisfying, well-written collection.
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LibraryThing member PatOsborne
Many, arguably all, of Mr. Doerr’s protagonists would qualify as misfits of one sort or another. Eccentric, non-conformist, odd ducks. Their unconventional behaviors, though, invite the reader deeply into expertly crafted short stories or novellas with stunning environments that are vivid and
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instrumental to the stories playing out within them. There is loss-of-mind aplenty, but something inside you that knows the story couldn’t have taken any other direction.
Mr. Doerr is a remarkable nature writer; in face, the natural world is as much a character in his stories as are his protagonists. Don’t read him in a hurry. But do read him.
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LibraryThing member catnips13
The collection starts out strong, and then weakens around the middle, where more light-hearted stories like "July Fourth" reside. This is rather jarring, as Doerr's voice completely changes in his attempts at humour, and the prose lacks the lush quality it bears in the stories with a lot more
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gravity. "The Shell Collector" was the most enjoyable, featuring a blind malacologist and the Kenyan coastline. Most of the stories are infused with the romantic human perception of the ocean, and Doerr's fantasies about reality, which is probably why Elizabeth Gilbert calls this a book of short myths. Rather puzzled at Doerr's venture into writing about "The African".
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LibraryThing member jigarpatel
This was a struggle relative to All the Light We Cannot See. I only read 3 out of the 8 short stories before giving up. The premise is good: anecdotes on the natural world and human interaction with it. I just found the plots thin and characters sometimes two-dimensional.

Read them all if you are
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keen to delve into Anthony Doerr's inspiration. Select a few if you are apt to attach deeper allegorical meanings to simple stories. But don't let it put you off his masterful All the Light We Cannot See.

The Shell Collector - 3/5 - the best of the three I read, tells the story of a blind shell collector, his life and visitors. The ending was thoughtful. On deeper reflection, this story could be considered an allegory.

The Hunter's Wife - 2/5 - a separated couple, their history and the separate paths they follow. Honestly, I struggle to remember what happened.

Mkondo - 2/5 - a man visits Africa and meets a woman, their journey thenceforth, and their relationships with nature and each other. Like The Shell Collector, a more thoughtful person than myself could interpret Mkondo as some kind of allegory.
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LibraryThing member Paul-the-well-read
Anthony Doerr's collection of his short stories, The Shell Collector, brings together eight of his stories.
As with any collection, some will have more appel to a reader than will others. My personal favorite was "So Many Chances," but I found something to like in each and every one of them. What
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impressed me the most about this collection is the wide range of writing skill Mr. Doerr displays. Each story is presented through a different narrative style, some really unique and innovative. These styles seem uniquely suited to the the stories they tell.
I was a little troubled, however, by the ending of a couple of stories which seemed to just stop rather than to resolve or conclude. I appreciate the open ending idea where the reader may fill in the missing conclusion as he sees fit, but in at least one instance, I didn't feel as if the story had played itself out enough to be stopped. Of course, maybe I just missed the point.
Mr. Doerr went on to write one of my favorite reads of this year, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning All the Light We Cannot See, which is the first work of his I had read and which caused me to pick up "The Shell Collector."
I look forward to finding and reading more gems from this gifted writer.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
A book of short stories, although all reasonably long short stories (if that makes any sense!). All quite different in setting and location, but all seem to revolve around a lack or a disappointment. They are, as a set, slightly mournful in tone. There is, in some of them, a sense of an acceptance
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of the situaiton that brings some comfort, rather than actual satisfaction to the protagnist. It is all well constructed and there are some images created in text that are really memorable.
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LibraryThing member Martha_Thayer
Doerr is a masterful creator of believable (even when far-fetched) worlds.
LibraryThing member nikkinmichaels
Beautiful. Anthony Doerr's prose is otherworldly.
LibraryThing member sundustnet
"The Caretaker" is the richest and most heartbreaking story I have read. The act of burying a whale's heart is strange and sad and perfect. The story reminds me that the events in our lives that will change us forever usually pass as though they mean nothing. We move through them almost asleep.
LibraryThing member dooney
I wondered about this book before opening it. The writing of short-stories, when done well, is not at all like the writing of novels. Here the writing is crisp and lyrical, the ideas no so much condensed as crystalline and filled with meaning that only seems to be revealed with the turning of the
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light or the reader's understanding. Very Good.
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Ohioana Book Award (Winner — Fiction — 2003)




1439190054 / 9781439190050
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