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The Library Book | Susan Orlean | 2018, 317 pages | Nonfiction
In 1986, “the most catastrophic library fire in American history occurred at the Los Angeles Central Library. Burning for more than seven hours, it consumed 400,000 books and damaged another 700,000.” Susan Orlean writes in detail about the day of the fire, how the fire grew to burn so hot, and how it destroyed so many books. For a book lover, it is very hard to read this part. She writes that books are our memories. “In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone has died is to say his or her library has burned.” The library fire was a huge and devastating loss.
Susan looked into the investigation of the fire, and researched the main suspect. She met with firefighters and librarians who were there the day of the fire. She studied how the investigation progressed. She also writes about the history of the Los Angeles Central Library, and its directors, some of whom were quite unusual characters. And she talks about the librarians today, changes to the library, what kind of people use the library and what kind of reference questions librarians get – some of those are pretty wild. She researches libraries in general as well. I liked reading about how books have been delivered over the ages and even now – by pack horses, boats, bookmobiles, book camels and there’s even a Biblioburro mobile library in Colombia!
One of the most important aspects of a library is that it is free to all, that everyone in a society can use it and use it in so many ways. It is also a storehouse of stories – every author’s leap of faith is to write a book and believe that it will be read. She walks around the Los Angeles Central Library at closing time and thinks that this is why she wrote The Library Book. That it’s a place she loves, but it isn’t hers. “All the things that are wrong in the world seem conquered by a library’s simple unspoken promise: Here I am, please tell me your story; here is my story, please listen.”
I found it an interesting, funny, fascinating and hopeful book.