On April 29, 1986, a massive fire started at the main branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library. 400,000 books were destroyed. Another 700,000 were damaged. Priceless collections of maps, autographs, and other items were lost. Fifty firefighters were injured fighting the massive fire. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were used to douse the flames. Sawdust and plastic sheeting by the mile were used to protect other books. The LAFD ultimately determined the fire was an arson. They even identified a suspect. But no one was arrested. And to this day, experts are no longer convinced it was an arson. Susan Orlean tells this story – and the larger story of the founding and running of the Los Angeles County Public Library in The Library Book.
Full disclosure – I am a book nerd. I love to read. I read books about books. I read about libraries and librarians. It’s like I missed my calling. What I loved about this book was not just the mystery of who would set fire to the library, but the way Susan Orlean tells the story of the library. I was unaware of the segregated way the library was run (men only, thank you very much). Throughout my childhood, librarians were almost exclusively female and I just assumed they ran them as well. In LA, that wasn’t the case. Susan Orlean shows, instead of telling. I love her storytelling. Even when I thought, at times, the book veered way off course, she always managed to bring it back on course.
This book is an ode to libraries, books, and all the people who depend on and use libraries for all sorts of things. For those of you who feel that libraries are overrated or have outlived their usefulness in today’s digital age, read this book. If it doesn’t change your mind, nothing will. The story is engrossing and interesting.
I listened to the audio book, which the author reads. I found her to be an engaging narrator and the book translated well to audio. If you love libraries and books and characters, you will love this book.