The Library Book

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

If you love non-fiction that reads like fiction, this will be your favorite book for a long time. The Los Angeles Public Library serves as the protagonist, fire the antagonist, and every book and person in the library's long history are supporting characters that tell the stories of the building, the books, and of knowledge itself. As a librarian, I wept as the flames stole millions of pages from bookshelves and readers in Los Angeles, and continued to grieve as Orlean details the long history of libraries and fires in human history.

This book is definitely one for bibliophiles, but can find a wider audience with people who are interested in world history. It's a fabulous true crime mystery too.  I will be buying this for gifts this year.
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I really enjoyed this book. It's not only about the L.A. Library fire that occurred in 1986, but a history of the L.A. Library, libraries in general and the author's remembrances of growing up going to the library with her mother when she was young. It was interesting and a fun to recollect about similar things in my past. If you are a book lover and more specifically a library lover this is a interesting and enjoyable book to read. Definitely recommend reading it.
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This is the type of book you never want to end!  With beautiful writing, the story of the LA Central Library fire in 1986 comes to life. I enjoyed reminiscing about that time and learning about events which I was not previously aware. 

Another revelation this book enabled for me was an appreciation for physical books. I embraced e readers, was an early adopter of the kindle, yet now realize that I may be missing the physical experience of reading. 

Overall, this was a wonderful book and will highly recommend it to all readers.
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Ironically, as a librarian, I am actually not the intended audience for this book and I feel like I appreciated it less than a lay person would because of my inside knowledge. It started to feel repetitive to me. Overall it felt unresolved and a bit self-indulgent. 

That being said, Susan Orlean can write. This was full of fascinating tidbits and was organized in a very readable manner and I will likely recommend it at the desk and try other titles by her.
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I though my love for books would evoke some emotion in me while reading about the destruction of books but that wasn’t the case. It just read too slow and I was ready to move on to anything else after the first pages. Just not my style.
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My Rating: 4.5 stars
 
Have you ever come across a book that felt like it was meant for you to read and then afterwards occupies a permanent place in your heart due to the special connection you feel with it?  Well, for me, Susan Orlean’s The Library Book was definitely THAT book (the reasons why will become more clear later on in this review).   
 
I’ve had my nose in a book ever since I learned how to read at 5 or 6 years old (though my mom likes to tell people that I might have well been born with a book in my hands, since I was always attracted to books even as an infant – my mom said whenever I cried, she would simply put a baby book in my crib and instantly I would stop crying, lol).  One of the fondest memories of my childhood was the bi-weekly trip to the local library that my mom would take me on, where I would always check out a huge stack of books (I remember I would always exceed the limit of books that I was allowed to check out on my card so my mom would end up checking out a few of my books on her card), take them home and read them all in less than a week, then beg my mom to take me back to the library again before our regular “library day” so I could return that stack of books and check out new ones.  My thirst for books and reading were insatiable back in those days and so of course, the library became my “candy shop” growing up – it was my “most favorite place on earth,” a place where I could literally spend the entire day browsing through endless shelves of books, looking at covers, reading summaries on the back and pretty much just delight in being surrounded by books at every turn.  As I’m sure was the case with many people, when I reached my teenage years and later, adulthood, and started getting caught up in the never ending “busyness” of school and work, my relationship with the library changed.  I still loved books of course (I don’t think it was a coincidence that I took practically every literature class that my schools had to offer and veered toward a liberal arts degree with a literature emphasis in college) – but I no longer had the time to go to the library and spend hours on end just “hanging out” there.  Instead of being the place of wonder and excitement that it was in my childhood, the library became “the place I went for research” or, when I was in college, the place where I would go to work on a paper or a project if I happened to have some free time between classes.  Over the years, as “time” became more and more of a scarcity for me (I’m constantly complaining that 24 hours in a day is not enough for me to finish everything I need/want to get done), the local bookstore(s) eventually replaced the library as my “go-to” source for books because with the limitations on my time, it was much easier for me to buy a book I needed for my classes way in advance and then just pick it up and start reading at the designated time without having to worry about a due date to return the book or even worse, the book not being available when I needed it.  It wasn’t until the last 5 years or so that I got “reacquainted” with the library again through my nephew (whom I am proud to say inherited my love for books!) and realized how much I had missed over the years.  In the first few chapters of the book, hearing the author recount her relationship with the library – the trips to the library with her mother as a child, growing apart from the library as an adult, getting reacquainted with the library after going there with her child, etc. --  it reminded me of my own journey, of the up-and-down relationship I’ve also had with libraries over the years.
 
The other reason this book resonated with me so much is because I’ve lived in Los Angeles practically my entire life and so basically “grew up” in the Los Angeles Public Library system – though ironically, despite the close proximity, I’ve actually never been to the Central Library in downtown LA (which is where most of the events in the book take place).  Regardless though, it was fascinating to learn about the history of the LA library and how the entire system evolved into what it is today.  Like the author, I too had no clue about the fire at Central Library back in 1986 (my love for reading obviously didn’t extend to newspapers back then, lol), but even so, I would’ve been too young anyway to understand exactly what was going on.  As a history buff, I also enjoyed the historical background about the city of LA and California as a whole that the author incorporated into her narrative.  I actually get really excited when I hear things (whether names or places) that I’m familiar with get mentioned in books, as it makes the reading experience that much more personal for me – in the case of this book, there were actually a few places mentioned where I have friends (or relatives) who live there currently, so it was fun to be able to talk them afterwards about the historical aspects of where they live.
 
In recounting the story of the Central Library fire, Orlean also gives us the story of Harry Peak – the man largely viewed as responsible for starting the fire but never charged due to lack of evidence.  The “true crime” aspect of the story -- including the analysis of the various records as well as all the insights into investigation of past arson cases – was particularly well-done, with the evidence and facts presented in a way that made this as engrossing as reading a good suspense novel.   With that said though, this book was so much more than just a chronicle of the Central Library fire or a history of the library’s evolution over the years – in many respects, this was also an ode to libraries and librarians everywhere as well as a testament to the critical role that libraries play in our society – not just locally or in our country, but all around the world. 
 
My one small complaint was that the narrative jumped around a bit too much between the investigation, the historical timeline, and Orlean’s personal interactions with various “characters” she encounters, whether it was people involved with the original investigation or the librarians she talked with in the course of putting together the research for this book.  There were a few times, for example, where the chapter that just finished was about a current interaction at the library but the next chapter was back to the investigation, which was last touched upon several chapters ago, so I had to go back and re-read those sections to refresh my memory on where it had left off.  Overall though, this is a minor structural issue in the grand scheme of things of course. 
 
Engaging, insightful, and well-written, this book is a wonderful tribute to not just libraries but also books and book lovers from all walks of life.  Highly recommended and a must-read for bibliophiles everywhere!
 
Received ARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley
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Wonderful book!  Informative and captivating.  Loaded with interesting facts about many libraries, in addition to the story of the fire at Los Angeles Library.
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This is really two books in one. The first is a record of the devastating fire at the Los Angeles Central Library on April 29, 1986 and how the city and library service recovered. The second is a paean to libraries in general: what they offer to society, and how they work, in a digital age. One might assume that Book #1 is of most (or exclusive) interest to Californians, but if you’ve read other work by Orlean you’ll know that her delight in history’s oddballs (here, would-be actor and compulsive liar Harry Peak, who was arrested on suspicion of arson, and 1880s L.A. librarian Charles Lummis, who walked from Ohio to California) and offbeat stories comes through no matter what she’s writing about. And while she doesn’t seem as clued-in about the state of libraries as Marilyn Johnson (This Book Is Overdue!), Book #2 is sure to appeal to any book-lover who shares her childhood memories of trips to the library.
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I liked the begining of this book, which desribed the author's love of libraries, her weekly trips with her mum and the excitement of exploring the shelves, picking out which books to take home that week. It made me go back to the library! 

The history of libraries themselves, however I found a little dry at times, and the investigation into the library fire brought an unsatisfactoryconclusion ( obviously no fault of the author's)!  but otherwise a good read, I do like my books about books and it has got me using my local library again so what more can you ask?!
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New Yorker staff writer, Susan Orlean write the story of the Los Angles Public Library fire on April 29, 1986.  It burned down that day from a fire that starts inside the library.  Though no one died from the fire, several people were injured.  An actor, Harry Peak is arrested for the fire that destroyed the library.  Included in this book, are memoirs, biography, history and science.  One learns the history of libraries.  One discovers how libraries evolved.  Libraries helped people during the depression and wars.  You learn how library’s struggle to stay afloat with limited funds.  This is a book not to miss!
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Susan Orlean’s book can be considered a love letter to libraries or a Mary Roach approach to the many aspects of libraries.  Filled with equal parts nostalgia and fun-facts, this is the perfect book for those who consider a library card the most valuable object in their wallet.     

In April 1986 a devastating fire raged for over seven hours at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, destroying half a million books and damaging 700,000 more.  Were it not for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurring at the same time, this act of arson would have occupied front-page news for days.  

The 1986 fire is the recurring thread running through the book.  Who did it?  Why was the fire so hard to extinguish?  How are water logged books treated to prevent mold?  But arson is only half the story.  Orlean interweaves chapters touching on all aspects of library life.  How do libraries move books from one branch to another?  How do libraries cope with the increasing homeless population?  What is it like to be director of a large city library?  How are libraries embracing technology?

And then there are library luminaries, such as Mary Foy, the first female head librarian hired at age 18; Ray Bradbury, author of Farenheit 451, who couldn’t afford college so read his way through the library instead; and Andrew Carnegie who built over 2500 libraries.  

Whether you desire obscure tidbits for the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner conversation or want to relive your childhood awe of discovering the library, The Library Book will satisfy both.
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Recommended to anyone who thinks libraries are no longer needed in today's digital age.  Orlean combines the history of the library in Los Angeles, true crime, and a love letter to books in this moving meditation on the power of books and reading.
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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.

My review was posted on Goodreads on  11/12/18
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I will just start out by saying quite flatly, The Library Book is the best book I have read this year. More than just an exploration of the fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, Susan Orlean’s newest book, The Library Book, is a love story about libraries, librarians, and books.

Susan Orlean had just recently moved to the Los Angeles area when she learned about the library fire that had happened decades ago. She had decided that with this move, she was done with writing books—too long, too hard. “Working on them felt like a slow-motion wrestling match.” Yet, she became so intrigued with the fire that she couldn’t stand not getting involved. And her narrative encompasses not just the fire, but the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, one of the first major library systems in the country, as well as the challenges libraries across the country face in the 21st century.

There are a lot of stories being told. There are Orlean’s reminiscences about growing up reading and combing the library stacks as a young girl with her mother. There are the stories about the people who directed the Los Angeles library through its history. There are details about the fire and how it spread. There are interviews with many librarians, patrons, and the security guard. She even explored the life of Harry Peak, the young man who was accused of starting the fire, although he was never charged with the crime.

One of my favorite quotes from the book: “Libraries may embody our notion of permanence, but their patrons are always in flux. In truth, a library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.” This type of philosophical pondering fills the pages and echoes what I have always felt about libraries. The book filled me with remembrance of the two Carnegie libraries of my childhood and youth in Little Falls and  Duluth Minnesota—particularly of the marble stairways leading up to the treasure trove of magic—of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott and on and on and on. It reminded me of my career choice of being a children’s librarian and how much I loved story time and reading precious picture books to rapt audiences of children. It also reminded me of how busy the Kalamazoo Public Library is, the tremendous number of activities that go on there daily, and the sheer number of people who walk through the doors every day. For example, this morning I booked an appointment to the free legal clinic for a friend. The library has always been a portal for me, and Orlean expands on that sense of discovery in every way possible.

Most of all, thankfully, The Library Book is an ode to the public library and its place in the lives of the patrons and the communities in which they reside. Orlean says, “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.” Susan Orlean has a marvelous article about growing up in the library in The New Yorker, where she is a frequent contributor.

Here are a few of my favorite books about libraries: The World’s Strongest Librarian; This Book is Overdue;  and The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu. Here is also where you can find an essay I wrote several years ago about public libraries.

The Library Book is narrative non-fiction at its best.  Go to your closest library and check it out. You will love it as much as I did.
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Not only is this the story of the 1968 Los Angeles Library fire, it is also the story of the author's love affair with libraries along with the history of the LA Public Libraries.  What isn't there to like?

I must admit to doing a little happy dance when I received a copy of this from Simon & Schuster via Netgalley.  As a lifelong lover of the library, I just had a feeling this was right up my alley.  Not only was this entertaining, it was filled with fascinating research pertaining to the fire and it's aftermath.  A true delight from beginning to end.

Lucky me.
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Loved this book. Orlean told a good narrative around the big fire that burned the L.A. Central library. I loved how she added in biographies and history around the Los Angeles Public Library. 

And what a unique idea to list a few books with the corresponding Dewey Decimal number right at the beginning of each chapter.

Great read for anyone interested in history and libraries.


Thanks to the publisher Simon & Schuster for the advance review copy. I can't wait to see the print edition with the photographs.
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This is a comprehensive history of the Los Angeles Library, as well as an informative and extremely interesting history of libraries in general!  I loved it.  The author spent a great deal of time talking about the LA library fire in 1986.  I even lived in northern California at the time and can't remember hearing about it.  I was glued to the page.  

Libraries have been an important part of my life since I was a young child.  I even briefly wanted to become a librarian.  This book struck a lovely nerve.  I wish my mom was alive to read it as well.  It is well researched and very detailed.  A truly great book for all library lovers and supporters.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and provide an honest review of this book.
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I received this book in exchange for a honest review from NetGalley. 

I adored everything that this book is about. It is more about a community and its ability to overcome adversity and the effects of libraries in communities then it is about the crime of arson. As a librarian I see this effect everyday in peoples lives. This book puts into words the idea of how the loss of a true third space can change a community and bring it together. It is a beautiful ode to libraries and what they can do for a community.
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Although a great deal of this book is about the fire that burned the Central Library of Los Angeles in April of 1986, destroying almost half a million books, and about the young man who many thought started the fire, it is really an ode to books and libraries in general. Just about every aspect is covered, from the history of libraries and books to their challenging future.

I adored every minute spent with this book and thank the publisher for granting me the privilege of reading an arc via Net Galley for my honest review
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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.
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