Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Library Book

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Simon & Schuster: 10/16/18
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476740188

The Library Book by Susan Orlean is a very highly recommended account of the history of the LA Public Library and the devastating 1986 fire.

Staff and patrons alike were surprised and shocked when the fire alarm that sounded on April 28, 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library was not a false alarm. Once the fire started, it was a monstrous blaze that burned for more than seven hours. It took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. In the final tally it destroyed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Once investigators could examine the scene, there was an intense arson investigation and it was believed that a young actor, Harry Peak, started the fire.

The Library Book is a compelling and fascinating book. This isn't just a book about the arson investigation; it is actually a history of the library. Orlean covers the engrossing history of the numerous interesting characters in the history of the LAPL and its role in the city since 1872.  The construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926 is detailed and how views about the building changed. It is clear that Orlean appreciates the crucial role libraries play in the community as she covers the myriad of ways the public library has changed and evolved in order to serve the community. And, yes, Orlean also looks into the life of Harry Peak, the suspected arsonist, and the investigation of the fire.

Orlean is, simply put, an extraordinary writer. She has a way of presenting all of her well-researched facts that makes the whole an intriguing and captivating account. The historical details and narratives of various characters in the history of the LAPL create a total picture that is better than many novels. The text is not linear; it does jump between time periods, from the history to the fire and subsequent arson investigation and attempt to save what books they could. The flow of the narrative is pitch-perfect. A book about a library might seem like a boring choice, but this account is full of intrigue, and interesting characters. I found myself engaged from beginning to end. This will surely make my top ten nonfiction books for the year as I really loved The Library Book.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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