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The Library Book

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On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

317 pages, Hardcover

First published October 16, 2018

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About the author

Susan Orlean

53 books3,992 followers
I'm the product of a happy and uneventful childhood in the suburbs of Cleveland, followed by a happy and pretty eventful four years as a student at University of Michigan. From there, I wandered to the West Coast, landing in Portland, Oregon, where I managed (somehow) to get a job as a writer. This had been my dream, of course, but I had no experience and no credentials. What I did have, in spades, was an abiding passion for storytelling and sentence-making. I fell in love with the experience of writing, and I've never stopped. From Portland, I moved to Boston, where I wrote for the Phoenix and the Globe, and then to New York, where I began writing for magazines, and, in 1987, published my first piece in The New Yorker. I've been a staff writer there since 1992.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 17,604 reviews
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews169k followers
February 11, 2020
I'm suddenly eager to run off to my local library and check out *ALL THE BOOKS* This book gives a lot of insight on what goes into running a library and has you growing a sense of appreciation for those who put in the the work to keep everything afloat. It's kind of shaped as a true crime book, but evolves into a love letter to books & libraries. At times it was a whiplash experience for me in terms of enjoyment as I didn't always find much interest in some of the things that were being explored, but then something would pull me in and I'd be right back in the zone.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
October 25, 2018
4.5 stars
Hundreds of thousands of books were burned to nothing but ash and hundreds of thousands of books were damaged - enough to bring chills up the spine of any book lover reading this book about the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library that occurred on April 29, 1986. The research and the writing here are impeccable. The descriptions of the fire, the librarians’ reactions, and the many, many volunteers who wanted to help - it’s as if it’s being reported in real time. The book, however, covers so much more than the story of the fire, although it’s the main focus. It is in many ways a tribute to libraries and librarians and what they stand for and the importance of the library now and in the future. It is a personal testament to Orlean’s love of libraries and her early experiences going to the library as a young child with her mother. I loved her reminiscing because it made me remember my own history with the public library in the neighborhood where I grew up. I remember the hours I spent there and some of the books that I read and the fond memories of when I worked there as a library “page” in high school and through college.

This is also a fascinating history of the LA public library and the library directors, the City Librarians, over the years. It’s the story of the people who use the library. It’s the story of the volunteers who after the fire “worked for the next three days around the clock.....They formed a human chain, passing the books hand over hand from one person to the next, through the smoky building and out the door. It was as if, in this urgent moment, people, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created for a short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.” I was also struck by the stunning words of a librarian, Jill Crane who helped with the cleanup and wrote in a poem:

“We held charred and water soaked
chunks of books in our hands,
history, imagination, knowledge
crumbing in our fingers.
we packed what was left.”

She also gives us Harry Peak’s story, arrested but never charged with starting the fire and describes the difficulty of proving arson and proving that he was responsible. So much is contained in the book and I felt at times that it was a little scattered moving from the fire to her experiences, to the history and then to the fire and the investigation. But ultimately it was an an emotional book for me as a retired librarian, although not a public librarian, but mostly as a book lover. The scenes described of the burned and damaged books got me in my gut and the coming together of volunteers to do what they could got me in my heart and then when several years after the fire, the library reopened. This fabulous book is an ode to librarians and the public library, which represents the fabric of our society in so many ways.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Simon & Schuster through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,128 reviews30.3k followers
November 9, 2018
This is absolutely brilliant nonfiction - and a book about books - about libraries! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

In April 1986, there was a large fire in the Los Angeles Public Library; so large, in fact, that over four hundred thousand books were burned completely and seven hundred thousand more were damaged. Initially, the thoughts were that this was arson, yet no one has been convicted, and a mystery still surrounds the act.

The Library Book accomplishes several things. First, Susan Orlean has researched the history of the LA Public Library, and believe me, it’s intriguing and page-turning.

When examining the fire, Orlean presents a key player. Though he is a suspect, actor Harry Peak denies any involvement. Susan Orlean tells his backstory and presents the evidence clearly and with tension in such a way that it could be on 48 Hours or Dateline.

Susan Orlean lovingly places her endearment for books on every page of this wonder. Her love for libraries and their vital role in communities is also resonantly conveyed.

I don’t want to say too much in this review because this book is all about the discovery. It’s unique and heartwarming, even in the midst of a tragedy that would hurt any bibliophile’s heart. More than anything, it’s an ode to books and a gift to those who love them.

Thank you to Simon Schuster for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

My reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
Profile Image for Madeline.
652 reviews54 followers
August 24, 2018
3.5.. mixed opinions on this, but I’ll post something later! It dragged on a bit too much at the end, and as I read, I got more exasperated.
Okay! Time to explain myself.
In The Library Book Orlean aims to offer a well-rounded discussion of libraries, rooted by the story of the Los Angeles Library fire in 1986. When I read the summary of this book, there was a lot of emphasis placed on the library fire, which really drew me in. I was curious to learn more about it, and hoped this book would provide a detailed, exciting explanation. Instead, I found Orlean's narrative style rather choppy, and lacking focus.

The narrative is hard to follow, especially since Orlean introduces so many different 'story lines'—historical (sometimes multiple historical threads going at once), observational, her own memories— and then alternates between each one in chapters that vary in length. While this usually keeps a book moving and helps me maintain focus, I found it hard to remember the details of the previous section on that same topic when I returned to a chapter on that same topic.

Since Orlean jumps between all these topics so often, it makes the whole narrative hard to follow, and creates a lack of focus in general. While I appreciate library history and all the other details Orlean explored, I wanted to learn more about the fire itself. It was hard to mush all the different chapters I had read about the fire into one coherent story, since all the chapters are broken up and separated. I feel like this book should be marketed less as one about the fire, and one more about libraries (or the LA central library) in general. I think that would have helped me 'tame' my expectations regarding the focus of the book.

My last complaint is that sometimes Orlean gets so deep in small plot points that really have no purpose. She goes on and on with small, topical details about library history, which especially began to grate on me in the end. I felt that the book really dragged on in the end, as I began to get sick of the lack of focus on the fire, and the endless, seemingly meaningless, details about the library, or libraries in general. I felt like Orlean was listing trivia points for no point other than to show off all the weird things she discovered during her research. It would have been nice to see all these details cohered into some sort of larger purpose, but that didn't happen.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book, but as I continued, I began to get more frustrated. If you are curious about library history and the LA public library system, then I would definitely read this book, just to learn some history. Orlean's writing is strong and propels the book forward, at least making this a pleasurable read. I did really enjoy parts of this book, so I can't completely write it off.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon Schuster for providing me a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Diane Yannick.
569 reviews751 followers
November 29, 2018
If I hadn’t read it on my Kindle, I would have considered burning this book after I finished it. Yeah, I finished it even though I was bored senseless. The author did a lot of research so I gave her 2 stars for sticking with it. I could picture her with a Rolodex of notecards with every last fact that she had uncovered about this massive fire and anything else vaguely connected. Then she didn’t stop until she had put EVERY last fact into this book.

I like libraries. I’m sorry this one burned in 1986. I’m sorry that the NYT put this on their 100 Notable Books list for 2018. I kept reading to figure out why. Never did figure it out.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
December 20, 2018
An ode to libraries past and present. To the importance of books, and how they are used by malignant governments, book burning, to control and frighten their citizens. Although the main focus in on the library in Los Angeles and the fire that destroyed it and so many of their materials, this book is so much more. The way libraries have had to change and adapt in light of our electronic obsession, in order to stay viable in our communities.

In a engaging manner, she takes the reader through history, past libraries like that in Alexandria, that burned more than once. Book burnings, and Bradbury's writing of Farenheit 451, as a warning to the future. Books mean so much, contain so much, as do libraries, readers, authors, they are the benchmark and the means of holding and spreading ideas, knowledge and yes of course entertainment. A story with a focal point but one that goes back and forth, with so much interesting tidbits in between. Read it!

The fire in Los Angeles and it's effect on their librarians and patrons. A community pulling together to raise money to replace what they could. The man suspected of starting the fire, his past, as well as those of the people responsible for running this library system.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
November 28, 2018
Susan Orlean was speaking with the Los Angeles Times about this book before its release....( I enjoyed listening to her speak on NPR as well).
When talking about her interest in writing about a big city library this is what Susan said:
“I could have done that anywhere. I like the idea of doing it in L.A., out of this
contrarian idea that people don’t associate libraries with L.A., which made it kind of delectable. That said, the 1986 fire ( forgive me), was a spark!

The reason I find Susan’s comment about folks not associating libraries with Los Angeles....is because I never really thought about it, but she’s absolutely right. She’s so right - it wasn’t even in my consciousness, ‘at all’, and I live in California with family throughout L.A. I also never heard of this fire - shows you how asleep I was - and every L.A. person in my life too. My youngest daughter was a year old in 1986.
Everything in this book was new to me.

This past year - I’ve used the public library system daily .... a zillion times more in one year ( at age 66)....than ALL my past years combined. Some readers might be appalled -aghast at such ‘horror’. I’m only telling the truth. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid - I remember some lovely walks I took alone or with a friend to the library as a child to listen to ‘the storytelling lady’......but reading wasn’t encouraged in my family. Not really. Actually nothing was encouraged - other than ‘good behavior’ at school and elsewhere. Many of you have heard this before - I’m a very late bloomer passionate reader. I fell in love with reading-for-pleasure accidentally as an adult the year the book “The Glass Castle”, by Jeannette Walls came out in the year 2006. I’ve already shared my reading process in my Glass Castle review.....
Point is.....I didn’t come close to having the experience that Susan Orlean had - with books and reading- as she did. I don’t have ‘mom & me’ reading memories to draw on and my dad died when I was 4.
I’m sincerely grateful to Susan Orlean - other authors with similar writing skills - to my long time reader friends —( hearing ‘their’ childhood memories are a treasure for me)...
All that said.....I liked MUCH of this book. I LEARNED A LOT about libraries - in general - not ONLY in L.A. - but my fear is I’ll forget many details too. I don’t own this book - ( I listened to Susan read her book as an Audiobook).
It’s a GORGEOUS PHYSICAL BOOK.... I think I’d continue getting value if I owned it. I can’t possibly hold all the details from the Audiobook alone. I took notes .....
The parts I found more interesting I remember. Some parts of her book - she lost me - I just don’t know what she was talking about. ( so then of course I felt stupid - like why haven’t I heard of that book or person?).....

Everything about the fire was fascinating.....( of course devastating in reality - HORRIFIC)..... but the THEN WHAT?..... The examination of this nightmare was fascinating and ALL THAT FOLLOWED......books going to restaurants - into freezers - learning about water damage - all the volunteers- and learning all the logistics of WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW.....in case..... such devastation should ever happen again ...
And better ways to avoid it EVER HAPPENING AGAIN. Lots and lots of details answer questions I didn’t even know I had. The pure knowledge was eye opening.

Susan’s Family was inspiring to me....her INCREDIBLE love for books, goes without saying.
Her research was top notch. She gave us history & mystery - in the similar way Erik Larson did in “The Devil in the White City”....
She gave us personal history..
We got a great education on how libraries run and their importance for our communities.
We were given history on the arson investigation....
But....honesty I had mixed feelings about the ENTIRE PROCESS of Susan burning a book.....
just to have the experience.... from her three week prior agony as to which book to choose .... to the NAILS ON A CHALKBOARD description of every detail.....
.......physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in burning that book.
My stomach was churning.....and not because I’m a ‘book-protecting-police-saint-( although I treat books with respect and cherish them as a live entity,too, somewhat)...
but because Susan’s book-burning-story was a little over-the-top dramatic for me.
Something about it made me want to rebel from the general greatness from where this book comes from.....
which is:

4.5 stars...... rating up....this book deserves it. I personally didn’t enjoy every part of it, but I did most of it — and my appreciation is much bigger than my small gripes.
Profile Image for Tucker.
385 reviews107 followers
January 4, 2020
Susan Orlean is a true genius at bringing seemingly any subject to life in a manner which is utterly fascinating and immensely readable. I’d even read instruction manuals and Congressional reports if she wrote them! Whether it’s orchids, Rin Tin Tin, or unconventional travel adventures, her extensive research, writing style and the manner in which she weaves topics and time periods together results in books I recommend to a wide variety of readers. Her latest book, “The Library Book,” is an examination of libraries and their changing and essential place in communities. For anyone who wonders about the relevance of libraries when books, magazines, and so much information is readily available on-line, Orlean’s exploration of their continuing evolution into a community gathering place, a provider of social and cultural services, a place to find an abundance of printed material along with movies, music, and even musical instruments was captivating and very informative. Orlean also writes extensively about the extremely devastating fire at the Los Angeles Public Library on April 28, 1986 in which over a million books were either damaged or destroyed. Alongside that, she shares her personal experiences with libraries and how important they have been in her life.

“Our visits to the library were never long enough for me. The place was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the bookshelves, scanning the spines until something happened to catch my eye. Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to the store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I wanted and what my mother was willing to buy me, because I could have anything I wanted in the library. After we checked out, I loved being in the car and having all the books we’d gotten stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking a bit to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill, anticipating the new books we would read.”

Her lyrical and insightful writing about books and how alive they always are should speak to anyone who loves books, reading, and libraries.

“A book feels like a thing alive in this moment, and also alive on a continuum, from the moment the thoughts about it first percolated in the writer’s mind to the moment it sprang off the printing press—a lifeline that continues as someone sits with it and marvels over it, and it continues on, time and time and time. Once words and thoughts are poured into them, books are no longer just paper and ink and glue: They take on a kind of human vitality.”

I recommend this book wholeheartedly to all readers and book lovers. Not to be missed.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,643 followers
May 13, 2019
"In the library, time is dammed up – not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever."

Like nearly everyone else here on Goodreads, libraries have always been like an oasis for me, a place I could escape to and be alone if I felt so inclined, or as part of a community of people that share the same love of books. My library card is one of my most treasured belongings. It has given me countless hours of pleasure over the years and allowed me to visit extraordinary places and meet remarkable individuals. Author Susan Orlean shares the same adoration of books and libraries, and it’s quite evident here in this book which is much like an ode of sorts to libraries.

In 1986, I was still in high school. I guess that’s why the news of the tragic fire in the Los Angeles Central Library completely escaped my notice. I was writing papers and solving algebraic equations rather than listening to the news. This book educated me on the subject of this catastrophe in a very engaging manner. The real magnitude of the fire, smoke and water damage to the books was staggering to say the least! Orlean attempts to unravel the mystery of just how the fire was started, but to this day there is no definitive answer – although there was one prime suspect throughout. We learn a lot about this suspect and the reasons why he may or may not have committed the crime. Arson investigations in general are very difficult crimes to prove and this one no less so.

This is so much more than just a true crime piece, however, and for that I was quite pleased. In fact, I found ‘chasing’ after the suspect to be the least compelling portion of the book. Instead, I gobbled up all the fascinating history of Central Library, libraries in general, and librarians across the years. Such a diverse group of men and women have been in charge of the library since it was established in 1873. Perhaps the most unconventional individual, at least from what I’ve garnered here, was Charles Fletcher Lummis. He caught the nation’s attention when he walked thousands of miles on foot from Cincinnati to Los Angeles to work for the Los Angeles Times prior to his engagement with the library. I found the reason for opposition to Lummis’s appointment to be rather comical: "… he never set foot in a library school, wore eccentric corduroy suits and was known to drink and swear on occasion." In fact, I have to remember to pass on this little tidbit to the director of my hometown library. I’m sure he’ll find it just as amusing!

There’s so much more to be found in the pages of this wonderful book. Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy as well as that of Bill and Melinda Gates is also touched upon. The changes that libraries have undergone over the years, the introduction of technology, and the initiatives to keep them a vital part of our communities also kept me glued to the page. I admire Susan Orleans' tremendous effort in researching this book. I recommend it to anyone that loves their library. I think this book would be best viewed as one about the history of the LA Central Library versus putting the emphasis on the fire. The fire is a large and fascinating, but only partial, part of the overall picture here. I'm rating this 4 versus 5 stars due to the fact I found the jumping around in time and narrative to be a little bit distracting. Just a minor complaint considering how much I enjoyed reading this one.

"… libraries have persisted, and they have grown, and they will certainly endure."
Profile Image for Julie .
4,030 reviews58.9k followers
June 18, 2019
The Library Book by Susan Orlean is a 2018 Simon & Schuster publication.

I couldn’t have been happier when this book finally reached the top of my TBR pile. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a long time. Naturally, I was drawn to the ‘books about books’ aspect, but was also mortified by the true crime elements. Who on earth would deliberately set fire to a public library?

Susan Orlean attempts to answer that very question, while detailing the rich history of the Los Angeles public library. What a fascinating journey it was –

The author, who is not originally from LA, had not heard about the fire that ravaged the central library back in 1986, until an offhand remark piqued her curiosity. Her research unearthed the library’s storied past, which is a compelling drama all on its own.

But she also attempts to shed light on the fire and the primary suspect, Harry Peak. Was Peak guilty, or just a consummate liar?

The book begins on a horrifying note. In 1986, the library housed a very impressive number of books and records, which included a large ‘stacks’ area. The building was not up to code either, so it only took a short time for the old dry paper to ignite and spread rapidly. Any type of fire which destroys a home or business is difficult to hear about. But, of course as a book lover, I was nearly in physical pain reading about the hundreds of books damaged by fire, smoke or water.

It was also disconcerting that the fire barely made a blip in the press. Granted, there were other major news stories going on at the time. But, now for the first time, thanks to the amazing work this author did, we can see how the fire effected the city, the patrons, and the librarians. We also get a close -up and personal look at how a library functions and the important work librarians do. What an amazing job. Working with the public has its drawbacks, of course, but I was truly impressed with how the librarians handle all the phone calls, answer questions on a myriad of topics, and cope with situations such as how to handle the homeless who often use the library to as place of shelter during operating hours.

The wealth of information and history surrounding the Los Angeles public library is vast and completely absorbing, especially if you are passionate about books and libraries. The mystery surrounding the fire, however, is perplexing and frustrating. Orlean presents the facts, and I must agree with her opinion of the prime suspect. The book is categorized as ‘True Crime’, but more than anything I think it falls into the history category. It is also a book that makes one truly appreciate the importance of libraries.

I have always supported libraries, and I try to remind people that although Netgalley, Edelweiss, KU, and Scribd, provide thousands of books right there at your fingertips,( and I am as addicted to these services as anyone else), the library will never reject you ‘based on the information you provided in your profile’, and it doesn’t cost you a dime for a library card. So, don’t forget to take advantage of everything the library has to offer-

Books- both print and digital, audiobooks, music, movies, documents, newspapers, magazines, research material, job information, book clubs, children’s story hour, free access to computers and the internet, literacy programs, programs to help learn new skills, community clubs, and a host of other services- most of them free.

There are many ways to support your local library: volunteer or donate any books or magazines you don’t plan to re-read or keep, and if you are in a position to do so, offer a little financial help from time to time. You can even deduct it on your taxes!! Funding for libraries is not always stable or dependable.

Obviously, book lovers need to read this one, as well as history buffs. While it starts off on a somber note, by the end of the book you will feel as though this eye- opening journey was a rewarding adventure. I am in awe of the LA public library, and its rich history, and have an even greater appreciation for the importance of libraries in general.

Orlean did a terrific job with her exhaustive research and it is obvious she put in many hours with those involved with the library and with those associated with Harry Peak. The book is well- organized, and unlike some non-fiction history books, I never zoned out or lost interest. If you love books or libraries, history, or True Crime this book is one you won’t want to miss out on!

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Brina.
904 reviews4 followers
November 18, 2018
Libraries have played a integral part of my life from the time I was a kid. My first library was the Bradbury Library where the magical world of reading opened to me and I participated in my first summer reading program. I graduated to more libraries, a larger world of books, conversations with librarians, and a variety of summer reading programs. When I first found out about Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, I was naturally intrigued by the title. When the description featured the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire, I was mortified but still wanted to read what was being billed as true crime in hopes that the Los Angeles police brought the criminals to justice. What I found out by reading this book about libraries is to judge a book by its cover, or, in this case, it’s reviews.

Susan Orlean spent a good part of her youth going to libraries with her mother. The trips were magical and she could never wait until her next trip to find out what books were in store for her. Life happened. Orlean became a renown author and a frequenter of book stores rather than libraries for a good portion of her life. She also decided that she was done researching for and writing books as the time spent on them took her away from her job and family. Then her husband accepted a job in Los Angeles and the family relocated. One day, Orlean’s son received a school assignment to interview a civil servant. He chose to speak with a librarian, and Orlean took her then six-year-old son to their local branch library. As if by magic, her feelings of trips to the library with her mother returned. Orlean became a library patron once again. Around that time, her mother was diagnosed with senile dementia. She decided that she would write another book for her mother and have it focus on libraries.

The library book may detail the Los Angeles Central Library fire of April 29, 1986, but the book is in part the history of the Los Angeles library system. As a history connoisseur, I found this facet of Orlean’s research to be fascinating. She heads back in time to the founding of the library in the 1870s when Los Angeles was a sleepy town located in the San Bernardino valley. The gold rush had passed and Los Angeles was a town of orange groves and avocado trees, essentially a farming community. Yet, the migrants who start flocking to California were literary minded and wanted a library similar to ones they used in eastern cities. By 1872, the library had been born. A good fifty years before women gained suffrage, the first four head librarians in Los Angeles were women, until the times caught up with them. These women, highlighted by the impeccable Mary Jones, brought the library to the forefront of national libraries, and eastern cities took note.

It was not until Andrew Carnegie made libraries his philanthropy of choice that the Los Angeles library modernized. Carnegie designated Los Angeles as one of the 1700 sites nationwide that would receive funding for a new building for its central location as well as branch sites. This came at a time when Los Angeles had become a leading city in the west, a center of commerce and the motion picture industry. People flocked to California from the east, and the library kept expanding as books overflowed from each new location. The Los Angeles city council voted that Bertram Goodhue should design the new library building. The architecture would rival the central libraries in New York and Chicago and would provide Angelenos space enough to house a book collection now numbering in the hundred thousands. Andrew Carnegie had cemented Los Angeles as an intellectual hub of the west.

Through her impeccable research, Orlean describes the Library fire in detail while also interviewing the present and future of libraries with current Los Angeles librarians as well as writing of the entire history of the city library system. With all the facets of the story, I was mesmerized as though I had entered a central library building myself. What I found most telling is that librarians and Orlean concur that libraries factor more than ever in society in today’s digital age. People want a free space to be able to borrow books, videos, conduct research, attend a variety of programs, and take young children to story hour to introduce them to the magical world of books. Orlean weaves the past, present, and future in her story seamlessly as I read through her book over the course of one day. Libraries still matter, and Susan Orlean makes that point clear in her touching ode to public libraries everywhere.

4 stars
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,468 followers
September 26, 2022
It feels as though the author was searching for adequate information to fill this book. It covers so many topics, it spreads itself thin. It has breadth rather than depth. It is not only about the huge fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Central Library on April 29, 1986, but also about the man singled out as having started the fire. Yet you know at the start, his culpability will be left unresolved, and therefore, other topics of interest had to be added. Lots and lots of other information is added.

The focus of the book expands. It starts with the incendiary event and spreads to cover the history of this one library and then on to the purpose and function of libraries in general. The telling hops back and forth in time and subject matter.

We are given details about the fire itself. We are given details about fires in general. We are given details about the Los Angeles Central Library’s history. We are given information about other well-known libraries. We learn about patrons, security guards and the library's various employees. We learn about the deplorable condition of the library before the fire and about its subsequent renovation.

This is also a book about books and the purpose and function of libraries in general, both in the past and how they should/could be utilized in the future. How they can be used to reach out to the poor and the homeless. How they can be used to educate. How they can be used by all ages--the young and the old and teenagers too. The ins and outs of the functioning of a library in the past, the present and in the future are all covered. Digitalization, voice over, e-books the place of computers in the library complex. Modernization, changes in societal patterns and other world events too. All are discussed because a library mirrors the world around it. There is information about new scientific discoveries concerning fire combustion and arson. You might say that this book itself mimics a library. It contains lots and lots of tidbits of information. The book is in this way kind of clever, albeit jumbled in presentation.

There is another clever, but annoying, aspect of the book. You know how each library book has an identification number on it? Each chapter in this book is numbered and after the chapter number follows the title, author, publication date and number of several books. These books indicate what the following chapter will be about. The author never says what these numbers are! My guess is that they were either the library identification code or an ISBN number. If you listen to the audiobook version, the reading of this irrelevant number becomes exceedingly annoying. Reading the paper version, you can just skim over the number!

The information is presented in a jumbled manner. The book needs editing. Some of the details presented are just not important. Interesting information is mixed with the mediocre. The prose, the writing, is a mix of good and mediocre too. There is not much humor.

Some of the information in this book IS interesting. There is no denying that. I found particularly interesting the biographical details related to the head librarians Charles F. Lummis and John F. Szabo. The information about Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy and active support of libraries is both relevant and interesting, but other books provide much greater depth. We are back again to the same problem--in covering so many topics, the book spreads itself thin.

What stands out for me as special is how well Orlean draws the ambiance, the feel of a library you have come to love. You are able to feel at home in a public space! The quietness that pervades a library is comforting and relaxing. One is enveloped in a soothing sense of peace. Orlean’s words capture this.

The author reads her own audiobook. She reads slowly. VERY slowly. Although this does not annoy me, I am pretty darn sure it will irritate others. Her pronunciation of foreign words is poor. The little humor that is written into the lines does not come to the surface. Her performance is fine, but you recognize that she is not a trained narrator.

The more I read by Susan Orlean, the more it becomes evident to me that she is best at writing short articles. Her longer books don’t hold together very well; they feel as a hodgepodge, a mashing together of separate pieces of writing. I give the book three stars for its interesting content.


*Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend 4 stars
*The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession 3 stars
*The Library Book 3 stars
*Animalish 3 stars
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books912 followers
April 3, 2019
Like a library, The Library Book has it all. With the mostly-forgotten Los Angeles library fire of 1986 as a backdrop, Orlean takes us on a journey that is a mix of true crime mystery, character study, history, political intrigue, tragedy, comedy, romance, and so much more. The research she reveals about head librarians spanning centuries seems like an impossible record to find--but, of course, libraries would hold on to all that information.

She structures the book as an even pace, blending the most intriguing bits with what might otherwise be less riveting cultural context. As it is, there's never a dull moment. For the millions of us who cherish our local libraries, this is the love letter we've long held in our hearts but didn't have the words--or background knowledge--to say it.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews813 followers
March 13, 2020
“All the things that are wrong in the world seem conquered by a library’s simple unspoken promise: Here is my story, please listen; here I am, please tell me your story.”

For many people, I imagine libraries are like places of worship - everyone is made to feel welcome and part of a greater community.

In the case of a library, it’s a community not only of readers, but also of people looking for someone to answer their questions, migrants taking literacy classes, people needing help with bureaucratic forms, teens wanting a safe place to hang out, collectors with memorabilia to donate . . . the list is endless . . . although it does eventually end with homeless people seeking a safe place to sit out of the weather. (If they fall asleep, they may be turfed out.)

The Los Angeles Public Library has had a particularly lively history and some unbelievably colourful people running it. Charles Lummis was one of the most charismatic and peculiar men around, I suspect, even in the wilds of Los Angeles in 1885.

Lummis was in Ohio when he was hired, and he decided to walk from Ohio to California, ostensibly to find out about America, but really to make an entrance when he got there. And he did. His “tramp” was covered by the newspapers and he was famous by the time he arrived. It all helps with funding!

This is him in his sombrero and bright green, wide-wale, corduroy suit with red Indian-patterned cummerbund which he wore all the time. He’d fit right in with today’s Hollywood.

[photograph of Charles Lummis]

The author introduces each chapter with the library details of various books that might apply to the chapter. The central story is about the LA library and the devastating fire, but the history of early libraries and its own establishment are woven in with the details of the fire and the mystery surrounding the suspected arsonist.

Susan Orlean is a well-regarded author and is also a staff writer at The New Yorker Magazine, so you know you’re in good hands. What could have been a dry history book is more like investigative journalism, with plenty of gossip and innuendo – this is Los Angeles, remember! Lummis was famous for his drunken parties and wild friends, and his section of the book reads like something out of the hippy days nearly a century later. There really is nothing new under the sun.

I won’t attempt to summarise Orlean’s excellent research or the police hunt for the perpetrator, but I do want to mention some of the book-burnings she describes. She even tried to burn one herself, to see what it would feel like, but she had a terrible time bringing herself to do it.

“Once words and thoughts are poured into them, books are no longer just paper and ink and glue: They take on a kind of human vitality. The poet Milton called this quality in books ‘the potency of life.’ I wasn’t sure I had it in me to be a killer.”

In another part of the world:

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned.”

They say that history belongs to those who write it. That’s true – to a point.

“The first recorded instance of book burning was in 213 BC, when Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to incinerate any history books that contradicted his version of the past. In addition, he buried more than four hundred scholars alive.”

What a frightening thought. But then in our own time, during WW2, the Holocaust attempted to wipe out an entire people, including the books.

“Special book-burning squads known as ‘Brenn-Kommandos’ were sent out to burn libraries and synagogues.
. . .
“By the end of the war, more than one third of all the books in Germany were gone.”

Meanwhile, back in the States

“In the 1940s, for instance, a schoolteacher named Mabel Riddle, with the support of the Catholic Church, began a campaign to collect and burn comic books because of their energetic portrayal of crime and sex. . . many local parishes sponsored their own comic-book fires. In a few instances, nuns lit the first match.”
. . .
“Destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never lived.”

Back to Los Angeles. The fire and its aftermath are described in horrifying detail, but the amazing thing is that it’s the water from the firefighting that causes so much damage. Mould and mildew are as bad as fire. Did you know you have to freeze a wet book to salvage it? What do you do with thousands of them? The fish markets! The logistics of packing wet books, moving, storing, freezing, rebuilding the library are extensive and exhausting.

Oh, one more thing. When pseudo-science books started becoming popular, Lummis instituted his own “Literary Pure Food Act”, branded the books with a “poison” symbol, and added inserts.

“The cards, shaped like bookmarks, said, ‘For Later and More Scientific Treatment of This Subject, Consult______,’ followed by a blank space for librarians to list better books on the topic.”

More libraries, more librarians, sombreros and all!

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the preview copy of this fascinating bit of history.
Profile Image for Jenny.
269 reviews96 followers
July 9, 2018
Some of the fondest childhood memories I have were of my Mother taking me to the library. I held my Moms hand as we walked in and as so as I saw my section, I begged to let go of her hand as I nearly ran to grab new books that my parents and I would read together. My Mother’s arms were full of mysteries, best sellers, biographies, cookbooks and of course, my books. I loved seeing my Mom stack the books on the counter and then that sound. The sound of the library clerk stamping the library card with the due date in each book.
As I grew older, I was allowed to ride my bike to the library and using my own library card, I ventured to the teen sectiion for the latest Judy Blume book. Now as adult, my love of the library continues as I carry more books than I should to the counter to hear the electronic beep of knowing that for three weeks, those books are mine.
The Library has been an essential part of my life so I was thrilled to have a chance to read Susan Orlean’s new book, The Library Book.
This nonfictional account of the 1986 fire of the Los Angeles Central Library. Orlean recounts in The Library Book, the fire that destroyed over 400,000 books and damaged another 700,000 more in the span of seven hours.
The fire and the mystery of who set the fire alone would be a compelling tale by itself but Orlean gives us so much more.
According to the Public Library Manifesto published by UNESCO, “The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of their right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society, for open debate and creation of public opinion.”
Orlean goes to great lengths and depth to showcase the importance and role of libraries in our communities. The Library Book is such a captivating novel with a blend of mystery, history and thorough analysis of the future of libraries.
Read Susan Orlean’s novel and you will have visited the mystery, geography, biography, humor, history and political sections of a library all in one book. Thank you to Netgalley for an advance copy of this book. My reviews are fair and unbiased. #netgalley #thelibrarybook
Profile Image for Linda.
1,230 reviews1,278 followers
March 17, 2019
"Usually, a fire is red and orange and yellow and black. The fire in the library was colorless. You could look right through it, as if it were a sheet of glass."

Like looking through tears comes to mind. The catastrophic fire that engulfed the Los Angeles Central Library on April 29, 1986 was beyond description. The loss is immeasurable in terms of rare volumes of books defining our human past, our on-going present, and our ever changing stepping stones into the future.

There's a kind of hush while taking that all in......

The Library Book by Susan Orlean is a love sonnet to every book we humans have ever opened and a cherished memory with each slip of the hand gliding across page after page with tactile delight. It is an extension of one's self entering into a mysterious land far beyond the familiar. Curiously, unlike a first love, opening a new anxiously awaited volume can repeat that flicker of a heartbeat again and again throughout a lifetime.

Susan Orlean takes us on a tour of the inner chambers of the library as an architectural feat. We envision its beauty in moments of before and after. Her research is impeccable into the history of libraries in general and the Los Angeles Library in particular. Orlean lines this research with countless interviews of eye-witnesses and staff who were there that fateful day. She brings in anecdotes from the city's first librarians way back in 1859 when public libraries first appeared.

Believe me, this is not a dull, dry, dusty version winding through a maze of bookshelves. Orlean adds sizzle with almost combative Sumo wrestlers vying for the position of head librarian. We'll meet a cast of characters both quirky and intellectual. Men were the preferred choice unlike the usual visual of the ol' school marm lady librarian. One interim female librarian refused to turn over her keys and bodily sat in all the meetings. I have the keys to the kingdom, Buddy......

Orlean provides a high interest thread about Harry Peak who was suspected of setting the fire. Harry's rendition of that day kept changing like a well-handled Hollywood script. She injects his little scenarios in just the right places. You'll be tossing back and forth on Harry.

It's my belief that libraries were elevated to great new heights due to the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who launched a library building project in 1890. Carnegie was born into poverty and gained phenomenal wealth in steel and railroads. He never forgot his love of books. Even small towns across America bear his name in the entrance of their libraries to this day. And even more success is noted that in the expansion it was necessary to hire more librarians........and oh, there were throngs of women this time, Folks.

The Library Book is quite the reading experience. It is one in which you, indeed, feel part of the journey from your own childhood romps behind library shelves that house the dreams of kings and queens. A book cares not of your status or the lack thereof. It just beckons you in to stay forever.
Profile Image for Lucy.
415 reviews612 followers
January 23, 2019
3.5* rounded up!

“The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.”

This book follows, and is a thorough investigation, into the Los Angeles public library fire. This fire occurred on April 29 1986 and destroyed more than 400,000 books, as well as rare photographs, manuscripts and first editions. However, this was not largely publicised or given as much attention due the overshadowing on the story of the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine.

Not only was this a comprehensive and an extensive investigation into how the fire possibly started, it also focused on the interviews of the prime suspect, Harry Peak, and what type of man he was.

This book also extended out of focusing on the fire and provided a detailed history of the Los Angeles public library. Susan Orlean details how the library is ever-changing and shifting and can be a safe haven for people, for example, during the war and through the depression in America. I was particularly interested in the women's history behind the management of the library and this was presented and detailed very well. There was also a focus on the new forward-facing future of libraries and the involvement of the ever-changing digital world.

What made this book good was the incorporation of many different sources of people. Susan Orlean details these characters; from security, to genealogy, music experts and the heads of the library, each character brings their own fascinating tales of their time in the library, and how working in a library is so much more than stacking shelves of books. Each story was bursting with unique life and responsibilities.

Profile Image for Swrp.
665 reviews
September 17, 2020
My favourite hangout place is the Library. I so very much love going around through various bookshelves in the Libraries, especially the Central Library. It feels so relaxed and calming when I am in the Library. It feels like, I am among many learned and wise souls, who are in all these books. These souls care for me even though we are, in some cases, hundreds of years apart!

"A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you`re all alone."

We, Goodreads readers, are all connected by this true and purest form of love for books and their beloved sanctuary, the Library.

Susan Orlean's The Library Book is a tribute to the Temples of Books, the Libraries. It is very well and passionately written. A must-read for everyone and anyone who likes and loves Books and Libraries.
the old L.A Public Library burned
that library downtown
and with it went
a large part of my
that wondrous place
the L.A Public Library
~ Charles Bukowski, "The Burning of the Dream"

Once upon a time, the Los Angeles Central Library suffered a terrible fire, and a fumbling young man was caught up in it.

The Library Book is a detailed and investigative account of the devastating 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library. This fire burned for more than seven hours and destroyed 400,000 books.

"The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever."

"In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned."

"The library is a whispering post. You don`t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me."
Profile Image for Debbie W..
726 reviews492 followers
January 11, 2021
An enjoyable and informative account about libraries in general, and specifically, of the 1986 fire of the Los Angeles Public Library. So many things that I liked about THE LIBRARY BOOK include:
1. each chapter begins with a small list of titles and call numbers of books pertaining to that chapter;
2. the intense step-by-step vivid description of the fire's progression throughout the library;
3. history of well-known libraries, but especially this particular library, including its architecture, past and present librarians, its contents, its patrons (one was even a serial killer!);
4. the demise of libraries and of books, even how and why books go missing;
5. how books are "cleaned" (including after being handled by patrons with contagious diseases - so pertinent today!) as well as how damaged books are restored;
6. how books were delivered in the past and how they continue to be delivered to this day;
7. the role the Internet plays in reviving a strong interest in libraries (I enjoyed the section about Overdrive); and
8. extensive information about the alleged arsonist, or even if arson was the cause of this fire.

One tiny issue for me was the voice of the narrator (who happens to be the author) seemed to be monotone at first, but I grew to enjoy listening to her story as it progressed.

Overall, a fascinating (and even a horror) story for librarians and library/book lovers alike! Susan Orlean's story shows how libraries are an integral part of society, which led me to develop an enlightened appreciation for librarians and the behind-the-scenes of all libraries. A must-read for library lovers!
Profile Image for JanB .
1,146 reviews2,532 followers
March 5, 2019
The staggering loss and damage of hundreds of thousands of books is enough to pierce the heart of any book lover. LA’s Central Library went up in smoke and fire in April of 1986. This book is an accounting of the fire itself, and the massive volunteer effort to save the books and rebuild the library 3 years later. Books that were salvageable were moved to freezers to prevent mold. Unfrozen 2 years later, it was a complicated process to dry out and restore and rebind.

To this day the cause of the fire is an unsolved mystery, although several theories are presented. There was a suspect, Harry Peak, an affable and charming pathological liar, but there was not enough evidence to charge him. His story makes this an even more compelling read.

But mostly this book is a love letter to libraries and the people who run them. The busy day in the life of a library is detailed, and we are introduced to a bevy of colorful City Librarians, both past and present.

I am most impressed with how libraries took themselves into the future of the internet age and expanded their programs to make them increasingly relevant to their communities. The future of libraries is seen as partnering with the internet, not competing with it.

The book is full of interesting tidbits and facts, such as Ray Bradbury’s connection to libraries and the writing of Fahrenheit 451, the science behind fire investigations, the changing role of employing women in libraries, the issue of libraries increasingly being used as havens for the homeless….and so much more.

Most fun fact: Cleveland, Ohio is the headquarters of OverDrive, the company that created the concept of e-book loans. When anyone in the world borrows a book or audio via OverDrive a small light appears on a large wall map showing where and what was borrowed. As someone who has a personal connection to Cleveland and borrows most of my e-books and audiobooks on OverDrive, this makes me ridiculously happy!

I read this with my book buddy, Marialyce. Both of us grew up within walking distance of a library and we had fun reminiscing about the many hours we both spent in libraries and the delicious feeling of walking out with an armload of books, a pleasure we both still enjoy to this day.

Bottom line: if you love books, reading, and libraries this is a must-read.
Profile Image for Sean Gibson.
Author 6 books5,720 followers
December 11, 2018
So, it turns out that people in LA do more than drink kale smoothies, have inventive but wholly unnecessary plastic surgery (“I just had my appendix done and it looks FANTASTIC on an MRI!”), and be impossibly (albeit generically) attractive while waiting tables hoping for their big break. In addition to doing those things, they also go to the library.*

A while back, I wrote about libraries, the internet, and probably something scatological (knowing me), but the lens of that piece was very much my own (white, suburban) experience—that is, I considered the concept of libraries as I’ve always known them: namely, repositories of books and quiet places in which to study and do research for scholastic purposes.

As Orlean details in this mostly engaging account of the fire that destroyed the Los Angeles public library in 1986, however, libraries are so much more, and never more so than now (somewhat ironically, given that book readership has flatlined at best). Libraries are on the front lines in trying to help the homeless (not only are they freely accessible portals to the internet, but they also provide training and access to social programs—and, perhaps above all else, they are simply a place to BE, one that is warm and safe and open and friendly), and they are often curators of important cultural and historical memorabilia. Those training and social programs are broadly available, however, and are hugely important to numerous other members of the general populace, including immigrants, the elderly, the disabled, and a host of others (not to mention overwhelmed parents who need a place to take their kids that doesn’t cost any money and at least provides the possibility of diverting them from destroying potted plants or pulling the wings off dragonflies for a brief period of time). And libraries are also apparently invaluable people who miss askjeeves.com and are too lazy to seek out basic informational tidbits on their phones, because it’s a little baffling how many people call libraries to find out random pieces of trivia.

In short, libraries, as they always have been, remain essential to the fabric of their communities, even if people don’t go there as much for the books anymore. It makes one wonder whether “library”—a word that conjures up images of imposing stacks of dense tomes, finger-wagging shush monsters, and yellowed card catalogs—is even the right term. Maybe we start calling them community engagement centers? Multimedia hubs? Nerd holes? I don’t know; I’m sure we can come up with something that more accurately describes what they do and what they’re for (note: on that latter point, “nerd holes” is probably a bad suggestion, because I’m not entirely sure I want to know what a nerd hole is for).

Up above, I called this a “mostly engaging” account; it flags at times, in part because it turns out that the primary suspect in the *spoiler alert* still unsolved fire may have just been a flighty attention seeker and the mystery surrounding the fire draws to an unsatisfying close (like a Ziploc baggie that just won’t seal right). Still, Orlean’s provides a really interesting look at the evolution of the library and its continued vitality as a civic institution despite, or perhaps because of, evolving technology.

*I’m totally kidding, Los Angelinos—I know you’re all actually witty and delightful book nerds with a taste for good Scotch and unaltered internal organs, even if you haven’t seen National Treasure, which is an almost unforgiveable offense against cultural literacy; but, sometimes you need to perpetuate a stereotype to make a point, you know? And you know you really do fret about how your appendix looks…
Profile Image for Melisende.
1,023 reviews115 followers
September 2, 2018
To be perfectly honest, I would have just preferred a tale on the fire in the LA public library from the act, through to the investigation, and its conclusion.

The style of story-telling -in this case the interspersing of other stories with the main story, just did not work or flow. I found it distracting - and rather boring.
Profile Image for Nancy.
388 reviews59 followers
February 13, 2019
A high-concept book that I thought would be a winner for me turned out to be dreadful. Disorganized, shallow, condescending to working class interviewees and characterized by purple, cliché-ridden prose, the breaking point was chapter five, which was entirely the author's self-indulgent witterings about the difficulty of bringing herself to burn a book, just to see how it feels. Wish she'd burned this one.
Profile Image for Carol.
829 reviews483 followers
January 16, 2019
The very best books are often the hardest to talk about. 96 of my GR friends reviewed The Library Book. There are 8000+ ratings and over 2000 reviews, with only 3% under 3 stars. Susan Orlean's latest, an ode to the love of libraries, has been favorably reviewed by the best, including Ron Charles for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Chris Woodyard for USA Today. Perhaps not as gushy were the industry reviews. Still, all in all, positive commentary. So what can I add to the love to encourage you to read The Library Book? Is my recommendation enough?

The naysayers had many complaints, the worst of which in my opinion was that if you thought libraries were boring, this proves it.

The strongest appeal factors for me

Library employee (retired), supporter and card carrying bibliophile.
True Crime enthusiast.
Historical context to broaden my knowledge.
Encourage me to conduct my own research, a curiosity to know more.
Highlightable passages to savor and contemplate.
Narrative Non-fiction fan.

If any of the above make your checklist, then I'd say jump right in.

Let me leave you with just one paragraph, one that speaks to me as I pursue a new found interest in my ancestors and descendants, and think about my loved ones who have left me behind to face my own mortality.

Originally appeared as Growing Up In The Library – The New Yorker, October 5, 2018 and paraphrased for this book.

“The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten but that we are all doomed to being forgotten—that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts nothing matters. It means that everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is just a wild, random, baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are a part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.”
Profile Image for Melki.
5,803 reviews2,344 followers
November 23, 2018
. . . if she could have chosen any profession in the world, she would have been a librarian.

December 6, 2016 was one of the greatest days of my life. It was the day I started work in the children's department of my local library. To this day, I still get a thrill every time I walk in the building via that special "Employees Only" entrance. I think to myself, "I can't believe I work at The Library," and I consider myself very, very lucky.

I'm sure by now you know that Orlean's latest book is about the devastating fire that occurred at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. She covers the aftermath of the disaster, the recovery and rebuilding, the Herculean attempts to save hundreds of thousands of damaged books, and the story of the young man accused of setting the blaze. But Orlean also manages to weave in the history and importance of libraries, with a look to the future with libraries becoming more community gathering place than warehouses for books.

All in all, a fascinating look at one of the world's best loved institutions. I highly recommend this one to book lovers everywhere.

It wasn't that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured here, collected here, and in all libraries - and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up - not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality: in the library, we can live forever.
Profile Image for Brandice.
860 reviews
December 10, 2019
What book lover hasn’t at least once dreamed about working in a bookstore or library? Sure, it’s not all fun and games, as we know with any job, but the appeal has always been there, for me.

”I couldn’t walk into a bookstore without leaving with something, or several somethings.”

This quote is all too familiar and a total reality for me - I’m confident I’m not alone on this one either ;)

I really enjoyed The Library Book, where author Susan Orlean details the history of libraries, their origin and their various functions. From lending books, to serving as a research resource and answering inquiries, to hosting community meetings and educational programs, the impact of libraries is evident. She also explores the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library. Unfortunately, this destroyed hundreds of thousands of books and damaged other materials, which made me cringe as I read about the fire’s devastation.

This year, I’ve gotten back into utilizing the library and believe this is what’s helped me to be able to read so many books in 2019. I’ve borrowed numerous digital books throughout the year and occasionally have gone into the library to browse the shelves, feeling joy when I see a book from my TBR list patiently waiting to be borrowed.

The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,187 followers
February 12, 2019
Library GIF - Library GIFs

"A library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage."

I guess I'm a bit of an outlier when it comes to this book. It was OK, but nothing remarkable for me. I hate to say that because so many recommended it to me, and I wish I could say I loved it. It wasn't all bad though, not by a long shot. I had actually never heard about the Los Angeles Public Library burning in 1986, was unaware of the tragedy of so many books and items lost in this fire. I am glad to have read this book and learned about it; however, it was anxiety-inducing for me to read! I just kept thinking of my own beloved library, of how it would feel to have such a tragedy happen, even though it's much smaller than the Los Angeles Public Library. All those beloved books, most of which I have personally touched, either because I purchased and catalogued them, or because I have changed the cutter numbers to letters on every book in the adult collection (a project that lasted a couple of years!).... all those books, going up in smoke? Oh, that makes my heart ache to think about!!! No doubt, many people can understand this, even those who don't work in a library!

One thing that many of my friends enjoyed about this book is learning about the inner workings of libraries. These parts was actually a little boring for me to read since I'm already familiar with this.

At one point, Susan Orlean describes burning a book, to see what it would feel like to watch a book go up in flames. She describes how it was all but impossible for her to ever throw away old books and would rather donate them instead, no matter their condition. "I can’t. I am happy if I can give them away or donate them. But I can’t throw a book in the trash, no matter how hard I try."

Let me speak for the librarians and library clerks out there -- we do not want your old, moldy books! I know, I know. I totally understand how horrifying it seems to most people to throw away a book, how utterly heartless, almost tantamount to murder! I used to be one of those people. That quickly changed once I started working in a library. Rest assured: You are not sending a soul into oblivion. It is OK to throw out some books; sometimes they are unsalvageable and to have moldy books in libraries creates a huge problem for the other books in the collection. Don't bring that nasty shit to us!

OK, public service announcement over.

The Library Book is very well written and I can see why it has such high ratings. I don't want to be a deterrent to anyone reading this book; I think most people will indeed love it. I liked it, yes; it just wasn't the most interesting for me, and as I said, I was filled with anxiety reading this book, imagining something similar happening to my own library. I'm wondering if I should add this book to the horror shelf!?

Nope Oh GIF - Nope Oh Scared GIFs

The fire at the Los Angeles Central Library burned for more than 7 hours with temperatures reaching 2,000º F. Almost half a million books were destroyed, and a further 700,000 were damaged. If that doesn't make your heart stop and the breath catch in your throat, you are a cold-hearted person indeed! Or maybe you're just someone who doesn't like to read, in which case I'm not sure why you're reading this review. But hey, no judgment. Books aren't for everyone and so maybe reviews are the way to go, kind of like a super condensed version of the book, about 350-500 pages less. You're gonna miss a hell of a lot, but hey, again, to each their own.

So, all in all, I think this book is a wonderful love story to libraries and books. The author's love of both shines on every page. I also am glad Ms. Orlean is educating her readers on just what all goes on in libraries, what all it takes to get the books, DVDs, CDs, etc to you, our patrons. We who work in libraries don't just sit around reading all day, much as we'd love to. I don't know how many times people have said to me, "Oh! You work in a library! How nice to get paid to read all day!" or "A library? Doesn't that get boring?" Um, nope! I could tell you some stories to assure you there's nothing boring about it! If you read this book, you will understand that!

I am glad to have learned about the fire, anxiety-inducing as it was. I also enjoyed reading about the services and programs the LA Central Library offers and has offered to its patrons. It is inspiring to learn of the different ways libraries reach out to their communities and provide services that are so beneficial. Libraries aren't just book lenders anymore; they are so much more! If you haven't visited your local library recently, I urge you to go. They will be happy to have you!

3 stars for my enjoyment of the book, but I'm bumping it up to 4 because of the detail and quality of writing.
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
615 reviews19.5k followers
January 25, 2019
This is a wonderful book about libraries. If you're like me, and borrow almost ALL your books from the local library, then you will like enjoy the fascinating information in it.

Not only does the author describes its history, how they function, interesting facts and figures, but she also focuses on the events surrounding the devastating, large, and mysterious fire that destroyed many titles of the the L.A. Central Library on 1986.

There is a short section devoted to Overdrive, the digital distributor of ebooks and audiobooks for libraries. I get almost all of my titles from them, it's easy to use and I would have loved hearing more about the history and operations of this company.

The author also explores many other aspects of libraries and the events surrounding the fire. Overall, a wonderful title for those of us who make use and appreciate all the services libraries provide to communities.
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