The Library Book

The Library Book

eBook - 2018
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Susan Orlean, hailed as a "national treasure" by The Washington Post and the acclaimed bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief, reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, and delivers a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution?our libraries. 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 false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, "Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie." The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library?and if so, who? Weaving her life-long love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes-eccentric characters who run them, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean presents a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling story as only she can. With her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, she investigates the legendary Los Angeles Public Library fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. To truly understand what happens behind the stacks, Orlean visits the different departments of the LAPL, encountering an engaging cast of employees and patrons and experiencing alongside them the victories and struggles they face in today's climate. She also delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from a metropolitan charitable initiative to a cornerstone of national identity. She reflects on her childhood experiences in libraries; studies arson and the long history of library fires; attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and she re-examines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the library over thirty years ago. Along the way, she reveals how these buildings provide much more than just books?and that they are needed now more than ever. Filled with heart, passion, and unforgettable characters, The Library Book is classic Susan Orlean, and an homage to a beloved institution that remains a vital part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country and culture.
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : Simon and Schuster, 2018
ISBN: 9781476740201
Characteristics: 1 online resource
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From Library Staff

Discussion on November 14th, 2019 12 p.m.

Discussing February 26, 2020 at 5:30 p.m.

Discuss Thursday, February 20 at 12:00 p.m. Susan Orlean’s most recent release is the New York Times bestseller "The Library Book", which was named a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book of 2018. She is the author of seven books in total, including &... Read More »

Discussing on February 18, 2020

DPL_Graham Jan 23, 2019

What happens when you set a book on fire? Susan Orlean tested it out in her California backyard. First it smokes, then flares, and then in a poof the book is gone enveloped in seconds leaving sooty ashes floating through the air.

On April 28th, 1986 the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Lib... Read More »

From the critics

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Nov 04, 2019

Fascinating! Unless you’re a plumber, equestrienne, sous chef, endocrinologist or astronaut; then, not so much.

Oct 18, 2019

I am not sure how I came across this book, but the story peaked my interest. What I read was a lot more than I had imagined. If you are at all interested in libraries, this book will enlighten and edify you, and is highly recommended. Don't get me wrong, this is not a story about libraries, it is the story about the largest fire to a library in the U.S. and the investigation of that fire, suspected to arson.

Susan Orlean conducts a in-depth and thorough review of the fire, the investigation, the suspect, and all the aspects surrounding the fire. What really made it interesting, was hearing the first hand accounts of the library staff. These were dedicated librarians whose livelihood and their profession were turned upside down because of the fire. Hearing their personal reflections and feelings added so much depth and interest to the fire. Everyday, we hear about some type of tragic incident, but only the facts of that incident. Hearing the first hand accounts, before, during, and after the fire of these librarians, added so much humanity to what would otherwise just be another tragic incident.

Interwoven between the account of the fire, the investigation, and the rebuilding of the library, are mostly accounts of how the "Central Library" in downtown Los Angeles, came into being, how it grew, the head librarians were over the years, the goals, ambitions, projects, etc., of the library (as well as other libraries) were and how they implemented them, as well as every other facet of any library system, is presented in between the main story.

This interweaving of the history of the Central Library and operations of the library, were quite interesting, but at times a bit tiresome and distracting. I felt at times that you suddenly jumped tracks at critical points of the real story to jump back in time about its past and development, only to circle around again, and resume the investigation.

I will have to say that Susan Orlean did a wonderful job of blending the history as well as the investigation into one story line, but as stated above, the history was at times: distracting.

The depth of her research was noticeable, as well as her personal dedication, which rings out during the course of the whole story. Her admiration and respect for libraries and librarians cries out loud and clear, and I did like her optimism for the future of libraries.

I have deep respect for libraries, what they bring to communities, and firmly believe that every community, no matter how large or small should have a library, it is the center of a life long learning as well as path to stories and imaginary fantasies for all to experience and grow. Because of this respect, I will have to say, that I was very sorrowful deep inside as I read about the day the fire nearly burned down the library and over 400,000 books and other materials disappeared forever. That tragedy was so well described, it could not do anything but grab you as to the enormous loss that was suffered that day. But it was also wonderful to learn about and see people galvanize and engage in rebuilding the library and bringing that desire to a wondrous conclusion.

You can't help to enjoy this book, respect the research and dedication of Susan Orlean, and the world of books and libraries. This book is a capsule of all of that and an enjoyable, edifying, and touching read.

IndyPL_SteveB Oct 01, 2019

A fine non-fiction love letter to libraries by the best-selling author of *The Orchid Thief* and other books. This is also a true detective story focused on a disaster – the 1986 fire that destroyed a large part of the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library. You may not remember much about that event; it didn’t receive as much national publicity as you would expect, because it happened on the same day as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Soviet Union.

Orlean jumps back and forth on several levels:
-- The story of the fire itself and the library’s recovery.
-- The history of the Los Angeles Public Library including how the LAPL operates today.
-- Her own life experiences in libraries.
-- Her quest to track down what really happened in 1986.

All of the sections are interesting; but I especially liked her appreciation of what libraries do in the community, with a focus on what LAPL offers to the homeless citizens of L.A. It’s all a lot to squeeze into only 300 pages, so the book moves pretty quickly. If you have any friends who doubt the current need for public libraries, this is a compelling argument.

Aimee M Trudel
Sep 17, 2019

Jan Reynolds' recommendation - NF

Sep 13, 2019

On April 29, 1986, the largest library fire in American history engulfed the Los Angeles City Library, damaging or destroying more than one million books, not to mention countless other media. Long considered arson, the true cause of the fire has remained a mystery. In alternating chapters, Susan Orlean tells three stories: that of the fire, its aftermath and investigation; the founding and history of the city library itself; and the library and its services today in the 21st century.

News of library and museum fires is devastating, imagining thousands of irreplaceable information and artifacts of human history going up in smoke -- my heart aches when thinking about the Library of Alexandria and, more recently, the National Museum of Brazil, which tragically went up in flames one year ago this month. This is a difficult read at times, but the salvaging process and the investigation of the fire are fascinating, and the chapters about the library's history are full of colorful characters and interesting controversies.

Sep 07, 2019

This is a captivating story about the great fire of the Central Library of Los Angeles in 1986 and of various characters who have populated this library's history -- Mary Jones, Charles Lummis and suspected arsonist Harry Peak among them. Some U.S. and worldwide history of libraries and the role they play in civilized society is tossed in. Thirty-two short chapters.

Unfortunately, the text -- on just about every page -- is marred by superfluous adjectives, awkward or inappropriate metaphors or sometimes whole sentences stating the obvious. Very surprising to come from a staff writer of the New Yorker and in light of the multiple thank-yous to various editors on the Acknowledgement pages. I found these deficiencies very irritating at first but they kept coming so I had to make an effort to read over them to allow the story to continue.

A index, at least of names, would have been helpful.

I came to this book as a result of a laudatory review article by Sue Halpern in the New York Review of April 18, 2019. She didn't warn me about the poor writing style!

Sep 05, 2019

Amazing read. Susan takes an ostensibly boring topic - the LA library system - and breathes life into every employee, patron, and branch. I loved this book from start to end, but I think it's good to go in knowing that less than half the content is about the library fire.

Aug 23, 2019

Interesting read if you live in California and are familiar with the LA public library.

Jul 27, 2019

A book to treasure! Ostensibly an account of the 1986 fire that devastated the Los Angeles Central Library, The Library Book is a love-letter to all libraries and librarians. After savoring this as a library loan on Kindle, I felt compelled to buy the hardcover edition to keep and share with my daughter who is studying to become a librarian.

Jul 26, 2019

The book tells about the fire that closed the main LA library but this book is also a interesting read for anyone who enjoys libraries and would like to know more about the history of how they came to be, what functions they served as they grew and what the future will have in store for the users of the library. I found it interesting that budget cuts have always had to have people's services limited.

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Aug 01, 2019

"In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned....our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual's consciousness is a collection of memories we've cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share; one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it--with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited - it takes on a life of its own."

Jul 08, 2019

“Sometimes it's harder to notice a place you think you know well; your eyes glide over it, seeing it but not seeing it at all. It's almost as if familiarity gives you a kind of temporary blindness. I had to force myself to look harder and try to see beyond the concept of library that was so latent in my brain.”

Mar 19, 2019

"When I first learned that the library had a shipping department ... I couldn't think of anything a library needed to ship. I came to learn that what gets shipped ... [are] books traveling from one branch to another. The shipping department at Central moves thirty-two thousand books - the equivalent of an entire branch library - around the city of Los Angeles five days a week. It is as if the city has a bloodstream flowing through it, oxygenated by books." (p. 61)


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Sep 05, 2019

mrlacroix thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

Jan 30, 2019

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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