"A constant pleasure to read...Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book ." ? The Washington Post "CAPTIVATING...DELIGHTFUL." ? Christian Science Monitor * "EXQUISITELY WRITTEN, CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING." ? The New York Times * "MESMERIZING...RIVETING." ? Booklist (starred review) A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution?and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries?from the bestselling author hailed as a "national treasure" by The Washington Post . On the morning of April 28, 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 fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, "Once that first stack got going, it was 'Goodbye, Charlie.'" The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library?and if so, who? Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before. In The Library Book , Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present?from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as "The Human Encyclopedia" who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves. Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean's thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books?and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist's reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.
This was where the library came in, providing the instruction manual for a million clever hacks and wheezes. In the runup to prohibition in 1920 every book on how to make homemade hooch was checked out and never returned. Five years later a man called Harry Pidgeon became only the second person to sail solo around the world, having got the design for his boat from books borrowed from the LA public library. More mundanely, the library quickly became the chief centre for free English language classes in the city, a service that it continues to provide for its huge immigrant population today.
It is this sense of a library as a civic junction that most interests Orlean. ... Or, as she puts it: "Every problem that society has, the library has, too; nothing good is kept out of the library, and nothing bad."
A real review is coming shortly, but that's my mushy version.
It could stop there.
But Susan Orlean goes further, giving us the narrative of the horrific Los Angeles Public Library fire of 1986, interviewing those who there and lived during this period.
Through these interweaving stories, we learn how the library is not only a place for books, but a force of good for children, the homeless, and those who vouch for the importance of knowledge and learning.
My elementary school, Philip Sheridan, was brand new and filled with recently published children's books. There was a small library in my second-grade classroom and after the teacher read a book out loud to the class I would borrow it and read the book myself. Then I started to pick up other books, like the biography of Robert Louis Stevenson which I read over and over. I knew his book of children's poetry A Child's Garden of Verses--now I knew there was a man behind the words.
When the teacher said there was a whole building of books called a library I went home and asked my mother if she would take me to the library.
She said I was too young and a year passed before we walked down the road to the Sheridan Parkside Library and I got my first library card. It was so hard to choose my three books! I borrowed Follow My Leader, which our teacher had read to the class, a history of Australia because I had an Australian pen pal, and D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths.
Wherever we moved, I continued to frequent libraries. And when our son was born, I would put him in the stroller and walk to the local library. As a preschooler, he would borrow 15 books a week. As a high schooler, he volunteered at the library resale bookstore. I joined book clubs at the local library wherever we moved. I made friends with librarians at the smaller libraries and the staff would know us. But I had never given much thought about everything that goes on to make a library run.
I had enjoyed Susan Orlean's book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend and that motivated me to want to read The Library Book. As I read it I found myself thinking about the many libraries in my life, appreciating them more and more.
Orlean begins with stories of libraries in her life growing up and how she wanted her son to have the same experience. Going to the Los Angeles Central Library, one of the most beautiful buildings she had ever seen, she learned about the April 29, 1986 fire that destroyed a million books.
Why don't we remember this event? Chernobyl took over the news that week.
Orlean's book is a history of the Los Angeles Central Library, the investigation into the fire, the extraordinary work to save the books, and an exploration into the role of libraries in society today.
When investigators can't determine the cause of a fire it is considered arson, and then comes the search for the person who started the fire. The case centered on Harry Peak, a fabulist with a deep need for attention.
We meet the memorable people who make the library run and see how the library functions in today's society as a democratic, open, public space. The LA library has developed outreach programs to the homeless and unemployed and offers a safe place for teenagers.
Libraries everywhere are changing to meet the needs of its community. Digital books audiobooks are available to download to electronic devices. In our small suburban city full of young families the library has intergenerational coloring days, reading to pets, speakers and concerts, Lego days, movies, card making, scrapbooking, magic shows, and of course book clubs and summer reading programs.
I enjoyed the book as history and for its insights into an institution sometimes considered outdated, but which the Millennial generation has embraced. Most of all, I am grateful that Orlean has made me better appreciate librarians and library staff for their contributions.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
The caveat mentioned above is that Orlean's portrait of librarianship and what librarians do all day is an outsider's portrait. She gave a lot of space to ready reference, which today is a small part of reference librarianship, and hardly mentioned the more typical "how do I find this" and "I'm looking for a book on" questions. More irritating is her repeated mentions of libraries as repositories of books, without adequately rebutting this notion. While her discussions of librarians' activities counterbalance the repositories statements, it's the statements themselves that are phrased in a way I don't think a librarian would phrase them.
By all means read this book. Just be aware that it's an outsider's view of public libraries.
"The reading of the book was a journey. There was no need for souvenirs."
"In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. 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."
"It’s like taking away the ability to remember your dreams. Destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never lived."
I couldn’t have been happier when this book finally reached the top of my TBR pile. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a long time. Naturally, I was drawn to the ‘books about books’ aspect, but was also mortified by the true crime elements. Who on earth would deliberately set fire to a public library?
Susan Orlean attempts to answer that very question, while detailing the rich history of the Los Angeles public library. What a fascinating journey it was –
The author, who is not originally from LA, had not heard about the fire that ravaged the central library back in 1986, until an offhand remark piqued her curiosity. Her research unearthed the library’s storied past, which is a compelling drama all on its own.
But she also attempts to shed light on the fire and the primary suspect, Harry Peak. Was Peak guilty, or just a consummate liar?
The book begins on a horrifying note. In 1986, the library housed a very impressive number of books and records, which included a large ‘stacks’ area. The building was not up to code either, so it only took a short time for the old dry paper to ignite and spread rapidly. Any type of fire which destroys a home or business is difficult to hear about. But, of course as a book lover, I was nearly in physical pain reading about the hundreds of books damaged by fire, smoke or water.
It was also disconcerting that the fire barely made a blip in the press. Granted, there were other major news stories going on at the time. But, now for the first time, thanks to the amazing work this author did, we can see how the fire effected the city, the patrons, and the librarians. We also get a close -up and personal look at how a library functions and the important work librarians do. What an amazing job. Working with the public has its drawbacks, of course, but I was truly impressed with how the librarians handle all the phone calls, answer questions on a myriad of topics, and cope with situations such as how to handle the homeless who often use the library to as place of shelter during operating hours.
The wealth of information and history surrounding the Los Angeles public library is vast and completely absorbing, especially if you are passionate about books and libraries. The mystery surrounding the fire, however, is perplexing and frustrating. Orlean presents the facts, and I must agree with her opinion of the prime suspect. The book is categorized as ‘True Crime’, but more than anything I think it falls into the history category. It is also a book that makes one truly appreciate the importance of libraries.
I have always supported libraries, and I try to remind people that although Netgalley, Edelweiss, KU, and Scribd, provide thousands of books right there at your fingertips,( and I am as addicted to these services as anyone else), the library will never reject you ‘based on the information you provided in your profile’, and it doesn’t cost you a dime for a library card. So, don’t forget to take advantage of everything the library has to offer-
Books- both print and digital, audiobooks, music, movies, documents, newspapers, magazines, research material, job information, book clubs, children’s story hour, free access to computers and the internet, literacy programs, programs to help learn new skills, community clubs, and a host of other services- most of them free.
There are many ways to support your local library: volunteer or donate any books or magazines you don’t plan to re-read or keep, and if you are in a position to do so, offer a little financial help from time to time. You can even deduct it on your taxes!! Funding for libraries is not always stable or dependable.
Obviously, book lovers need to read this one, as well as history buffs. While it starts off on a somber note, by the end of the book you will feel as though this eye- opening journey was a rewarding adventure. I am in awe of the LA public library, and its rich history, and have an even greater appreciation for the importance of libraries in general.
Orlean did a terrific job with her exhaustive research and it is obvious she put in many hours with those involved with the library and with those associated with Harry Peak. The book is well- organized, and unlike some non-fiction history books, I never zoned out or lost interest. If you love books or libraries, history, or True Crime this book is one you won’t want to miss out on!
The author depicts the history of the LA Public Library from its beginnings. There are pioneers in library service who led the LA Public Library. For example, in the 1880s one of them proposed lending things other than books; this is now a common practice. My library lends everything from phone chargers to video cameras. The author offers a compelling argument why the library will continue to endure, whether or not its role as book lender, or the use of the physical book itself, diminishes.
The story of the fire is a tragedy. The principal suspect, Harry Peak, was truly a Los Angeles character. He came to LA to become an actor and drifted around seeking attention. No one could tell if there was any truth to any of his varying accounts of where he was the day of the fire, but he reveled in the telling of his stories and the attention they brought.
This book is a great read. Buy it, borrow it from the library in physical form or on OverDrive.
The history of libraries and the profession of librarians.
The mechanics of libraries.
The importance of libraries in communities.
The future of libraries.
The architecture of the Los Angeles Central Library
And finally, the story of the library fire and the confusion surrounding the investigation of that fire. Including the entanglement of Harry Peak the suspected arsonist, but perhaps only a fabulist, who found himself at the center of the fire investigation.
It is a nonfiction story, woven in a similar pattern to that of the author's previous book, [The Orchid Thief]. To anyone who loves books and libraries it provides a story which is engagin and interesting.
Orlean also seems to think it is cute, rather than scandalous, how wasteful some of the library jobs are, e.g., people who answer Google queries over the phone all day. The long lists of library collections are pointless, and the title lists at the beginning of each chapter are precious. Orlean herself says that she never goes to libraries.
“On a library book shelf thought progresses in a way that is logical but also dumbfounding, mysterious, irresistible.”
Let's talk about some details about the building that are sure fire giveaways that this book has too much misplaced descriptions and too many distorted observations. If you've ever been to that building and you've done any kind of walking around you will notice some very unique aspects. For example, I found that in the men's room none of the stalls had doors. You would think that might be noteworthy. The author describes how the old part of the library is connected to the new one via escalators. Anyone who has every taken those is intimidated, not delighted. Striking a metaphor by calling it a waterfall is a gross misrepresentation of what it's like and indicative of a writing style that tries to polish and burnish real life as if it's a fairy tale.
Every person the author meets is wonderful and lovely and entirely positive, even the mean and nasty ones. Other reviewers have also noticed this and describe the book as overly cloying. I couldn't agree more. Ironically, every time the author gets close to describing a real person it cuts off, which is where I got interested and ultimately lost faith in this book altogether.
The antagonist is such a typical Los Angeles flake that anyone in that city could point out hundreds more like him and I kept wondering how many more of his ilk were in the library the day it went up in flames. Any of them were more likely to be the culprit. You can tell that the author is desperately trying to squeeze interest out of a person who was completely uninteresting.
If the book has a shortcoming, it is that it could have done with more graphics. If you go online there are some dazzling images of the LAPL. Although these may not have translated well into black and white for this book, at least better images of the building, its layout and signature elements would have not gone astray.
This being real life, the story of who set the fire is perhaps anticlimactic, but it can only be what it is. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
A little disjointed at times as she reflects from one period to another, but still an enlightening read for lovers of the written word and lovers of the library.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean is a love letter to literature, librarians, and most especially to libraries. The book begins with a brief glimpse of what happened on April 29, 1986 and one of the (alleged) main characters. This is a bit of a teaser to the mystery explored in the book but in my opinion the next chapter is the real heart of the book. Orlean takes us back to when she was a young library patron who had a special routine of visiting her local library with her mom and the visceral reaction she had many years later when entering the Los Angeles Central Library with her own son for the first time. During a tour of the historic building, she learned of the devastating fire that occurred there on April 29, 1986 and how the man accused was never charged. Hundreds of thousands of materials were either outright destroyed by the blaze or damaged by the smoke or water used to douse the flames. The cost to repair and replace these items (as well as repair the building) was in the millions and it still holds the record for the largest library fire in U.S. history. Orlean was intrigued by the crime and why no one was brought to justice. She spent 4 years tracing back through the history of the public library in Los Angeles (including all of the City Librarians) before she fully delved into the one and only suspect, Harry Peak, an aspiring actor who boasted to friends that he had been there on the day of the fire and more importantly that he was the one that set it off.
If you're not particularly interested in the fire or the whoddunit aspect there's plenty more here to sink your teeth into because Orlean goes behind the scenes of the library to talk about its various departments, infrastructure, and ultimately what it's really like to work in a public library. She covers such topics as holds fulfillment, collection development (like what to do with hundreds of maps), working with the homeless, and working within a tight budget to bring programs to the masses. I took copious notes after reading this book but looking back I realize how the majority of them would completely spoil this book for you. As I went in totally blind (and loved every moment of it) I think you guys would benefit by doing the same. Try and get your hands on this one but be aware that you'll probably be waiting for a while to get it from your local library. 😛 10/10
I received an advanced reader copy (eGalley) from Simon & Schuster through NetGalley. This review reflects my honest and unbiased opinions.
The book begins with graphic descriptions of the awful destructive fire at the main library in Los Angeles which occurred on the same day as the Chernoble disaster. The description of the actions of the fire and of the bibliophiles who worked so hard to salvage whatever could be done is so clear that the reader feels the pain and frustration of the obliteration of so many unique and irreplaceable books, other ephemera, microfiche, and so much more. Then the book progresses through the librarians and other employees and how things were managed to the other satellite libraries to the logistical problems of libraries everywhere. There is much devoted to the evolution of library services, preservation of historical library buildings, and the processes of archiving and restoration of materials. But this is not just a dry recounting of facts, it is a loving sacrificial offering to beloved libraries the world over, and the humor is found in the books listed at the beginning of each chapter. No Time for Tears: Coping with Grief in a Busy World (2015) by Heath, Judy 157.3 H437. Fire! The Library is Burning (1988) by Cytron, Barry D. X624 C997. If you geek libraries, you need to read this book!
I have geeked books and libraries since forever, as do most of our children and grandchildren. Several of the grands would consider this a book of horror as they are old enough to decide that they prefer print copies.
I requested and received a free review copy from Simon and Schuster Publishers via NetGalley. Now I have to get a print copy as soon as available!