The Library Book

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

Part crime story, part historical non-fiction, Orlean's recounting of a fire in the Los Angeles library and the main suspect of the crime is worth the read.

I do not for the most part enjoy non fiction, but I enjoy reading and orchids, so Orlean manages to consistently choose topics that speak to me and my tastes. The fact she writes like a fiction writer and "blazes" through some very interesting twists and turns helps a lot too.

I was hooked from the first page and soon became fascinated by the "characters" and Orlean's crisp descriptions. 

With a great description of a telethon and some other interesting side stories, Orlean manages to easily make history come to life. 

Thanks to NetGalley.com, the author and the publisher for my advance copy.
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I loved this book for many reasons, but the biggest reason is that it felt like a love letter to libraries with a side true crime story. Like a true nonfiction writer, Susan Orlean dives into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library. This helps you visualize the importance of this building as a staple in the Los Angeles community. Then she follows this up by relating the details of the Los Angeles Public Library fire, from interviews with staff, who worked at the library at that time, to the entire process of cleaning up and rebuilding after the fire. Like so many people I have talked to about this book, I was not aware of the 1986 fire, and as far as I am aware, this book is the only literature out there that discussing this historical event in detail. What I found really interesting was the section that described how the water-damaged books were recovered and restored and the methods used to do so. It was somewhat a relief to know that at least some books were saved.

Just as I am sure it was hard for the author, it was equally hard for the reader to read about the author's experience burning a book, but the visual was important. I do agree that choosing Fahrenheit 451 was appropriate too. As hard as it was to read about one book being burned, how could anyone set a whole building of books on fire?!!! The author investigates the theories of suspects, as this crime is still unsolved. She gives us background into Harry Peak, who was a suspect, including interviews with people who knew Harry.

She really wants you to care about the Los Angeles Public Library fire and care about libraries in general. The author describes in detail the daily tasks of librarians. No...it is not just shelving books. I learned first hand a few years back when I took a temporary job working in my local public library. Libraries have always been important to me and continue to be a special place that I love to visit. When I received an opportunity to work in one, I couldn't help but think: "Dream job!". Like I said though, it was not just shelving books, it was helping members of our community. I spent a lot of time helping library patrons navigate sites on the computer when they were trying to apply for jobs and many other important tasks. We were also one of the first buildings in our community to open up after a hurricane caused tornado and massive flood damage to most of our area. We opened to provide library patrons with computer access to start applying for FEMA aid. I had never had to do such a thing in my life, but I quickly tried to learn how the FEMA system worked, so I could help as many people as possible. Those were such rewarding moments, when you know that you are truly helping people in need. However, my favorite moment in the library was when someone came up to me and asked me to help her find some Jane Austen books. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and I was so excited to get that question. I could then follow-up with a question of whether she wanted works by Jane Austen, books about Jane Austen or Jane Austen inspired fan fiction. My enthusiasm must have been contagious, because the patron smiled and said, "How about all of the above." That one-on-one relationship and service is so important. Yes...as stated in the book, I also got my share of unusual phone calls. For example, there was an individual who would call the library almost every day, give us a word, and ask us to use that word in a sentence.

Libraries do not just provide books, but they provide services. I am glad that this author brought to our attention a historical event unknown to most of us, that also expresses the importance of libraries. I highly recommend this read!
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Have you ever had to force yourself to slow down while reading a book so that you can fully appreciate it washing over you for the first time? That's how I felt while reading The Library Book. Every once and a while a book comes around and unexpectedly knocks me to the ground. I'm always attracted to books about books, so with all the hype surrounding The Library Book it was no surprise that I ended up pushing it to the top of my list. I was surprised, however, by the sentimentality and emotion that overwhelmed me while I was reading it.

The Library Book is part true crime, part memoir, and part ode to libraries and their history. Somehow, Orlean made all three of these things fit together in a cohesive narrative that just made sense. I found myself having to stop and reflect on my own love affair with the library systems I've been a part of - to the point of wondering if I had chosen the wrong career path. This book made me appreciate libraries and librarians more than I thought was possible, and allowed me to feel kinship with people I will never meet. 

I tend to read so quickly that I remember books not for their detail, but for the emotions they make me feel. The Library Book made me feel recognized, safe, devastated, elated, excited, and nostalgic. I quite literally laughed and cried while reading this book. Anyone who loves books will love this book. Anyone who loves libraries will love this book. And if you aren't someone who loves either of those things - this book may just change your mind.
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I loved this book! This is a must-read for bibliophiles and would make a perfect gift! This book was the perfect mix of library history and the story of the historic Los Angeles library fire. More than both of these things, this book was also a beautiful example of how libraries are so much more than just a place where we borrow books...The Library Book memorializes libraries as a place for communities to gather, receive vital services, and grow. stronger together
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This book is an amazing piece of history. The main focus of the story is the Los Angeles Public Library Fire in 1986, but is goes deeper in detailing the ins and outs of the library.  Orlean takes her readers into what it is like working at the library whether its is being a librarian, the city librarian, being in the shipping department which I am sure many people don't realize or understand how the books are moved around along with many other areas.  She talks with the family of the person of interest in the fire and the way she details the fire makes you feel like you are inside of it.
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I love Orlean's ability to take what seems to be a small seed of an idea, like the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, and grow that story into a complex, compelling book,  This book is a gorgeous and entertaining mix of history, true crime, and a portrait of libraries and the people who keep them alive.
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I really enjoyed the mystery of the LA Library fire, but I also enjoyed just the overall history of the libraries and those who work for the public good that flitted in and out of the memoir.
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This book was slower than I expected. I kind of meandered my way through the second half, reading it over the space of weeks. It was almost like reading a fire, initially hot and fast-paced and then a very slow burn to ash. I really want to like the book better than I did, but it felt like it tried to be too many things. There was too much disparate information to be just about one library, but too much concentrated story on the one particular library to be a general library history. Maybe if I'd been able to concentrate on the book and read it through in a few days, it would have made more of an impact. I truly feel disappointed when a book that I can tell took a lot of work is just kind of meh to me, but so it is. And that's why libraries have lots of books.
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An incredible achievement, The Library Book is part history and part mystery, part personal reflection and part investigative journalism, subjective and objective almost simultaneously. It celebrates the author's relationship with books, libraries and her mother while also pondering the mystery of the fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986, and a million books in the process. Gripping, thought-provoking and profound, The Library Book is wonderful non-fiction, expertly evoking time and place and character, even making something as potentially dry as local politics utterly fascinating. Switching with aplomb from the past to the present, from librarians long gone to libraries of the future, this is the kind of book that has you desperate to make a gift of it to every bibliophile you know. Simply outstanding.
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"I have come to believe that books have souls—why else would I be so reluctant to throw one away?"

When I first started The Library Book, I thought it was going to be a book about the fire that took place at the Central Library in LA back in 1986. And while Orlean does discuss that event in great depth, including details about the investigation and subsequent court cases surrounding it, she also talks about the science of arson and the progress that has been made in that area since this fire occurred. The book is written in alternating chapters starting with the fire and working up to the present time of her investigation. In the alternate chapters, Orlean talks about the history of libraries and librarians and how those individuals helped to shape what libraries look like today and the functions they serve.

To say I loved this book would be an understatement of epic proportions. Orlean is incredibly adept at capturing parts of history and turning them into a book as compelling and page turning as any great mystery or thriller. Learning about the fire at Central Library was fascinating and I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the power and magnitude of the fire that raged for more than seven hours and destroyed over four hundred thousand books. The fire captain described the fire as being so hot that it was completely colorless so that they were able to see through it to the other side of the room. Of all the crazy things I learned while reading this book, that one has stayed with me.

Before reading this book, I had no real idea of what it meant to be a librarian beyond the functions I see them serve any time I visit–they help answer questions, find books and other resources, and make recommendations. But libraries function as so much more than a place to go to check out books and use the internet. They are open and free to everyone, welcome everyone, and provide vital functions to those who may not have access otherwise. Because of this, along with all of the basic straightforward functions a librarian serves, they also play the role of a social worker. If I could go back and do it all again, I would do whatever it took to become a librarian without doubt or hesitation.

"Every problem that society has, the library has, too, because the boundary between society and the library is porous; nothing good is kept out of the library, and nothing bad."

I am immensely glad that I read The Library Book. Because I lack free time and read to escape, making the conscious choice to pick up a nonfiction book does not happen often. This book did not feel like so many of the nonfiction books I’ve read in the past. It was never a dry presentation of facts, but a story full of wit, unforgettable characters, and compelling history woven together into a story I found impossible to put down. Susan Orlean has written several other books, and I will definitely be looking into those soon. If you are a lover of books and the library and enjoy history, you should not hesitate to pick this one up.

A big giant thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!
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Brilliant book!  It opens with the fire that consumed the books of the Los Angeles Public Library in April, 1986.
The story encompasses so much more.  The reader is taken on a journey of library discovery.  We learn the history of libraries from their humble beginnings to the purposes of libraries today which involve all aspects of life everywhere.
The world of the librarian is explored.  We learn the history of the library leaders who were so diverse and fascinating.  Orlean relates her fascination with libraries from early times when she and her mother went on memorable trips to select any books that interested her.  What's especially riveting was the nature of the fire.  Did Harry Peak, the accused, set the fire or not?  The reader is left to decide because there there was never any definitive answer.
Orlean's love of libraries is apparent through the beauty of her writing.
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Orlean weaves together 3 storylines in this book:  one about the history of the LA library, one about the fire at the central library in 1987 and the man suspected of starting it, and one in the present day, following her research.  On its own, none of these really make a substantial, attention-grabbing tale.  But somehow, woven together, they make an engaging read.  Such is Orlean's magic.

It's a love story to libraries in general, a history, and an update on what libraries do for us now.  It's delightful.

I got a copy to review from Net Galley.
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Once again Susan Orlean takes a relatively mundane subject and turns it into a compelling story. Although it begins with a spectacular, if awful, event -- a historic fire at the LA Library -- she takes off from there to explore the intricate life of the library and why it is such an important institution in America. Cherish your library card, people!
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No matter how much I tried I wasn’t able to download this title from NetGalley. I haven’t had that issue with any other books so I’m not sure what happened this time. I was able to get a hard copy eventually so I could give a review. This is a book primarily about the fire that destroyed a library in LA, but it does pay tribute to other libraries. I normally don’t mind books with no pictures, but I feel like this could’ve used more pictures of libraries around the world. But overall this is a beautiful book. Thank you NetGalley!
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What's not to love in a book about books? Non-fiction is not my usual genre but I had to go for this one and was not disappointed as it was easy and very interesting to read.
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In April 1986, the same week as the Chernobyl meltdown, a fire burned in Los Angeles's Central Library for seven hours, destroying hundreds of thousands of books and damaging (directly or indirectly) hundreds of thousands more. No one really knows how it started, though an arrest was made of a possible arsonist.

Susan Orlean explores the past and present of the Los Angeles Public Library as well as the arson investigation, weaving interviews with current and retired staff with her own experiences at the library. The book is full of interesting tidbits and historical information. It's a fascinating read, and I really enjoyed it.

On a more personal level, it's very odd reading about people and places I know. I've worked for the LA Public Library since 2002; The Fire was well before my time, but a lot of the interviewees were familiar folks. There are a few inaccuracies here and there that jump out at me, but not enough to detract from the book overall.
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How can a lover of books resist a book about books? Such was my own dilemma with The Library Book by Susan Orlean. This one is a bit out of my normal go to reads being that it is non-fiction but occasionally I can’t resist when the book is about something that interests me and this one fit the bill wonderfully.
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THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean was such an interesting read — I’ve never read anything quite like it. Orlean traces the origins of the Los Angeles Public Library (we’re talking the 1800’s here — super fascinating) until present day. The book specifically centers around the fire of April 28, 1986, when the LAPL burned down and more than 400,000 books were lost. Fast forward to thirty years later, and the mystery has yet to be solved: Who (if anyone) intentionally set fire to the library? Orlean puts her skills as a reporter to use, and the result is a mashup of intriguing history with a dash of mystery. One of the main reasons I enjoyed this book is because it’s an extensive look into the job title of “librarian.” I’ve always loved the library and the librarians who operate this magical space, but after reading this book I have a newfound appreciation for them and the hard work they do. If you’re a life-long library lover then definitely check out this book! Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the free ecopy via NetGalley.
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I absolutely adored this book. It very quickly became one of my favorite books of the year. The author made sure that the book was more than just about the arson, but also the impact of libraries in everyone's life, especially her own life. It was extremely quick and easy to read. When I first picked it up I thought it was going to focus just on the arson that occurred in the Library, but became pleasantly surprised when I realized that it was more than just about that, but also a love letter to libraries. I could not recommend this book enough, and will recommend it to everyone who even has a small positive experience with their local library growing up.
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This must have been a very nicely written book. I wish I could've given it more time.

Thanks to the publisher for the ARC, nonetheless.
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