"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 false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, "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 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."--Dust jacket.… (more)
Similar in this library
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
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
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.
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.
The author makes accusations that are unfounded about a Mr. Harry Peak and talks of his family in a highly insulting and pretentious manner right out of
Who ever acted as her editor also fell asleep at the wheel. Several chapters could have been erased without any real impact. The marketing and many reviews had painted this as a mysterious "who done it" as many have pointed out and I expected a little history and mostly true crime style reporting given her background as an apparent journalist. I firmly believe there is some marketing magic going on behind many of the positive reviews. By chapter four I regretted buying this, and by chapter five I was livid. She burned a book "to see what Harry would of felt", mind you again, it hasn't been proven arson let alone that Harry Peak did so. Burning a book is childish to start but for an idiotic reason such as that is pathetic. Any writer who would burn anothers book so mindlessly is one not worth reading. It is obscenely disrespectful given the whole story is supposed to be about one of the worst losses of literature, and thus valuable knowledge, in US history. Or at least, that is what it was marketed as.
The rest of the book as others have stated is a poorly organized mess with much content unrelated to the fire or even the library as it was at that time. She may or may not be a decent journalist, but she is indeed a subpar writer and the editing didn't help her any. As a fan of libraries, books, and criminal investigation from a family strongly involved in fire departments and history I am shocked someone felt this worthy of publishing. If they released a more heavily edited and on topic revision, I would consider rereading. Unless you REALLY care about the unknown side of how libraries operate, which isn't even supposed to be the topic, this will disappoint.
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.
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
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!
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.
"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."
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.
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 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
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!
“On a library book shelf thought progresses in a way that is logical but also dumbfounding, mysterious, irresistible.”
• Great technical details of methods used to freeze, dry, and salvage over a half million damaged books.
• What the Central Library meant and means to its community, and what challenges libraries everywhere face as patron needs change.
I received an advanced reader copy (eGalley) from Simon & Schuster through NetGalley. This review reflects my honest and unbiased opinions.
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.