The Library Book

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

I feel like this book was written specifically for me.  A whole book about books, the library and an unsolved crime. Everything I love in one well written and witty package. I have always been a huge library lover and learning not only about the history of the Los Angeles library but the future of library's world wide was awe inspiring.  I can not recommend this book enough.
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I started this as an eBook courtesy of NetGalley, but finished with audio. As a librarian, of course I enjoyed this! There are so many quotable parts that I actually checked out the physical book as well, and read some aloud at a library conference.

Now I only wish that I could visit the Goodhue Building! It was interesting how Orlean wove a bit of women's history, California history, and more through the book. At times, I felt there was more detail than necessary (the listing of books burned went on for several miles as I listened, and I'm not sure if I'll need all that info on arson ever again.)

It was very ironic that as I was finishing the book, the fire at Notre Dame happened, so I found myself drawing parallels: unknown cause so far (will they ever know?), loss of irreplaceable things, yet an astonishing number were saved.

Some of the parts I found the most interesting: the telethon to raise money after the fire, some of the personalities, the map collection, the depictions of librarians. The long section on arson right before the end felt like it was keeping me from the end, but I agreed with Orlean's conclusion in regards to Harry Peak's innocence or guilt. Orleans herself read the book, which made it seem as if she were telling the story (she was).

With all of Orleans' visits and research, I was somewhat surprised that she didn't see a connection between Legos and the current influx of makerspaces; maybe she does now!
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This looked like a great book, but unfortunately it was archived before I could read it.  I will pay more attention to that before requesting.  Thank you.
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As I was born the same year, I had never heard of the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library.  Here, Susan Orlean set out to tell the whole story of the fire, but she ends up telling the entire history of the LAPL.  And both stories - that just of the fire and the entire history - are fascinating, illuminating, and hilariously full of eccentric characters.  Along the way, she intersperses anecdotes of her time spent in the LAPL of today, and I must say she did a marvelous job of capturing the true essence of the modern public library and steered well away from the stereotypes and misconceptions I frequently see.  She is a true library lover from a young age, and it shows - from the well-researched story she presents to the marvelous descriptions of the library itself.  A must read for everyone!
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What might have been a mere factual account of a library disaster has instead proven to be a book that soars with incandescent writing and is an homage to libraries and books. For anyone who is fond of reading, of libraries and of the role they play in our society, this book will resonate. But even those who aren’t enamored of miles of book shelves and helpful librarians, Orlean’s writing sparkles with interesting anecdotes and people who enliven the story of the Los Angeles Public Library that suffered tremendous loss from a disastrous fire in 1986. It is artful the way the book holds the reader's interest and recounts so many details of the fire as it destroys countless treasures.

Personally having a connection to the topic was the initial incentive for reading this book, but it surpassed all expectations. Orlean has an exceptional way with words. Her descriptions are lyrical and profound. She is gifted at writing about the essential role libraries play in the lives of individuals who utilize a library’s resources – both physical and human. This is a true testament to a public establishment that often is overlooked for the essential role it has played throughout time. Clearly, the author is a champion of reading and libraries and her book should inspire everyone with its enthusiasm and poignant love for an institution that is crucial to our society.
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I am obsessed with this book and all things library! This one is now at the top of my all-time nonfiction favorites and I will surely be buying it for my librarian friends as a gift.
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I honestly thought that I was going to enjoy this book but I just couldn't get into it. It was dry, boring, and I had to force myself to read about 40 pages before I couldn't take it any longer and didn't finish.
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Being the book lover that I am, I love love love libraries. As a child, this is where I spent most of my free time when I wasn't hanging out with my friends. The thought of my childhood library burning down, would have devastated me as a child (and let's be honest, if my current library burned down I would be just as sad) 

At first, I had said that I would not give feedback to this title. However, after finding it on my Kindle app again, I realized that I actually really did want to read this one! 

I had never heard of the fire that burned down the Los Angeles library (I blame it on living in Belgium). It took me a while to finish it, but in the end I did enjoy it!
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Superb book; narrative non-fiction at its best. Beginning with the devastating fire at the LA Public Library in April 1986, Susan Orlean, a very fine  journalist, explores every aspect a tragedy of this magnitude exposes, from the thoughts and feelings of library employees, to the workings of public libraries in general and the weaknesses inherent in these systems. And what avid reader wouldn't be enthralled and horrified by such a story!
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"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. Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage - the writer's belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come."
This book spoke to me. I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Susan Orlean writes a lot of her observations as she tries to understand what happened during the fire in the Los Angeles Public Library in April of 1986. She visits different departments of the library, interviews many different people who worked there over the years and researches the history of the library since it's beginning.
The book starts off by introducing Harry Peak, the main suspect of the library fire in 1986. Then it delves into the different directors of the library over the years and their main areas of focus. From there it goes to libraries over the world, how libraries have changed and evolved into what they are today, and what they can become in the future.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I appreciated the various observations the author shares without a bias. I like that it wasn't just on the Los Angeles Public Library fire, but it delved into deeper and more substantive topics about libraries in general.
If you are a book lover, a history buff, a library nerd, or anything in between, this is the book for you!
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Not going to lie - I struggled to get into this book.  But I'm thoroughly glad that I stuck with it and gave it a bunch of tries until it crawled under my skin and into my heart.  Incredibly well researched and beautifully told, Susan Orlean has written something special here.  Get past the first 50 pages.  You won't regret it.
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I felt this book was very much aimed at people who love books but weren't librarians. I was very engaged in the first half, the initial fire, the devastation (it was incredibly well written and heartbreaking), but the second half I felt was stuff I perhaps already knew, and so was less interested. All in all though, very well written and engaging.
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A wonderful book in so many ways. I lived in LA when the fire happened, and worked high up in a building two blocks away. We watched nervously as the building burned. Fires in LA are almost always scary: this was among the scariest of all.
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This is perfect for those who love libraries or love to read.

As a librarian, I found it interesting. I was not able to fully download it and so I also did the audio.  Susan Orlean isn't the best narrarator and I found myself really bored with the book because of it.  I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to because of that.  

I also wish there was more on Harry and how he dealt with the fire afterwards, especially after being accused. I felt like the book just dropped him.
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What a delightful read for a librarian. Or really, for anyone who loves libraries and books. I'm so glad I found it.
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This book was just the most fun!! If you love books and libraries and mysteries, you will love this book. Susan Orlean uses the background of the 1986 fire that devastated the Los Angeles Public Library, to share a story about the love of books and libraries. 

I just can't say enough about how great this book is. Susan Orlean is an award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author, so she knows her way around words. She weaves amazing details into her story, as well as introducing readers to a whole list of quirky and lovable characters. Seriously, if you have any amount of love for books and/or libraries, you will not want to put this book down.
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In 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library's main library burned. Millions of dollars worth of books, items, and archives were lost forever. As librarians, staff, patrons, and the public stood outside and watched smoke billow out of the grandest repository of knowledge in Los Angeles and beyond, rumor had already started to circulate that the fire was intentionally started. Orleans recounts the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and analyzes the evidence behind the fire, as well as Harry Peak, the main suspect in the alleged arson.
Susan Orlean's thorough history of the Los Angeles Public Library gives book-lovers the warm and fuzzies. The interesting and exotic history of the library leaves readers with a wealth of knowledge. Orlean uses her magic to make a dense and factual topic read like a story. She does it again!
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The Library Book is really three books braided together: part historical account of the 1986 LA Central Library fire, part biography of the prime suspect, and part ode to libraries everywhere. Orlean is clearly a gifted nonfic storyteller and lover of libraries, so on that front it's an interesting read. That said, I would have chopped it down at least 50 pages, not EVERY tangent related to the story needs to be explored. And honestly even though the insight into Harry Peak was pretty compelling, the fact the entire case against him unraveled so spectacularly makes his role in the book feel forced and unnecessary, you can write about the library and not recount this person's entire life story... Still, I have a forever soft spot for libraries and their constantly evolving function in society.
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This book was not what I thought.  I thought it would be more of a memoir.  It is more of a history of libraries with several stories in the mix.  It is a very good book if you are looking for library history or you're a non fiction informational book junkie.  It was interesting just not what I was looking for.  Once I read it, I went back to the jacket synopsis and saw where I had misunderstood what it was about.  So it was my mistake, not intentional.  Still, a good book.
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When I first heard about The Library Book by Susan Orlean, I thought it was about a library book. I love books and I love the library, so sure, that sounds like a book I'd like. Then I learned a bit more about it and that it was actually about the 1986 fire that burned down the Los Angeles Public Library. Okay, sounds interesting. Here are a few facts that I picked up about that incident:

By the time it was extinguished, [the fire] had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more.
The building burned for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2,000 degrees; it was so fierce that almost every firefighter in Los Angeles was called to the scene.
The number of books destroyed or spoiled was equal to the entirety of fifteen branch libraries.
The cost to replace the four hundred thousand lost books was estimated at over $14 million.
The author had never heard of the fire (she lived in New York at the time) and it was because it occurred three days following the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union: The biggest library fire in American history had been upstaged by the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown.
According to librarian Glen Creason, the breeze was filled with "the smell of heartbreak and ashes.'

Invaluable items were lost in the fire:
...car repair manuals for every single make and model of automobile starting with the Model T 
A volume of Don Quixote from 1860
A leaf from a 1635 Coverdale Bible, which was the first complete translation in modern English.
The book goes on to discuss who, if anyone, was responsible. There was a suspect, but he was never convicted or even tried in criminal court.

Then as I continued to read, I realized this book wasn't just about single library fire, but about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, its librarians, and even the general history of the growth of Los Angeles itself. I was surprised to read the history (and even scandal!) of the head librarians at the library since its beginning: it was like reading a soap opera! There were many wonderful things established by these librarians including by the current head City Librarian John Szabo who established the first accredited library-based high school program in the United States and who frequently preaches the gospel of the library as the people's university. 

This book is absolutely a love letter to libraries: a place where everything is available to everyone; a place that could serve someone like a man named Harry Pidgeon, in 1925 who completed a solo sailing trip around the world, only the second person ever to do so. He had gotten the building plans for his boat and most of his nautical knowledge from books he had borrowed from the Los Angeles Public Library. His boat, The Islander, was nicknamed The Library Navigator. 
That is powerful!

Honestly, I have so many highlights and notes in this book that I can't share them all here. If you are a book lover like I am (and I'm guessing that you are), you need to read this book for yourself. Usually I don't enjoy non-fiction very much, but this reads much more like a narrative. The writing is fantastic and the "characters" will keep you interested. The only problem I have with this book is that it proves that the written word can be dangerous: it has reignited (pun intended) my yearning to be a librarian, something I've long wished for but thought was an unrealistic career goal based on the expense of library school. Orlean's mother shared my dream:

I knew that if we had come here together, she would have reminded me just about now that if she could have chosen any profession in the world, she would have been a librarian.
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