The Library Book

The Library Book

Book - 2018
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A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

A WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR * A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018

"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 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 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.
Publisher: New York : Simon and Schuster, 2018.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476740188
1476740186
9781476740195
1476740194
Branch Call Number: 027.4794 ORLEAN S
Characteristics: 317 pages : illustraions ; 25 cm

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From Library Staff

A self-confessed lover of libraries, Susan Orlean, brings to life the unsolved mystery of the catastrophic 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire with The Library Book. Intricately combining personal reflection with historical research, Orlean crafts a mesmerizing page turner that demonstrates the ... Read More »

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LPL_DirectorBrad Sep 11, 2018

This book took me back to my days working at Los Angeles Public Library. What starts out as an investigation into whether the massive 1986 fire at the Central Library was arson, Orlean takes that initial story and branches out into multiple stories about LAPL--the fire and the psychological damag... Read More »


From the critics


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u
uncommonreader
Aug 15, 2020

A love letter to all libraries and the wonderful people who work in them.
One cannot overestimate their value to the community.

s
supernova_reader
Aug 13, 2020

Very enjoyable read. Orlean is a great storyteller, and I liked how the story expanded to explore interesting asides about the history of libraries and the people who appreciate them. I couldn't stop telling people around me cool tidbits I learned from this book!

IndyPL_ShainaS Jun 19, 2020

I love how Orlean's conversational voice draws the reader in. Her love for libraries and stories and history is compelling, and a reflection of my own love. It's a strange main tale to be sure, of a devastating library fire and the enigmatic compulsive liar who possibly set it, woven around a series of vignettes about the many aspects of library service. Some of Orlean's musings felt like a strike to my heart; others felt a little flat or unfinished. Overall, I think Orlean did a lovely job of conveying the power of libraries and how they'll be around for as long as people wish to hold onto stories.

c
cdarin11
Jun 15, 2020

What a treat! Have been able to spend the time at home with "The Library Book". Have been following up on Charles F. Lummis one of the more colorful librarians. Reading his "A Tramp across the Continent" . He walked for 143 days from Cincinnati to Los Angeles starting in sept 11, 1884. Hope the book and I survive the corona virus.

A book to read while I was missing the library during the shutdown. Lots of different threads here and they didn't all tie up at the end and, while I don't care as much about the LA library as someone living there, I appreciated the general reflection on the history and value of libraries in society.

c
Cooper8888
Jun 06, 2020

For December 17, Tri Delta

s
smallhoodoo
Jun 01, 2020

I listened to the audiobook on RB Digital. The use of the Los Angelos Central Library fire was a great way to tell the story of libraries and their role in communities. Interspersed between the fire, arson investigation, and trial, are stories about how a book burns, how a library is created, the library as a community hub, the future of libraries, and other stories.
I enjoyed it. It was a good choice while waiting for our library to reopen during this CoVid pandemic.

j
JANMAYS
May 15, 2020

Not very good about a LA Library fire - DNF

r
Roundcat
May 12, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of Los Angeles Central Library history, speculating as to how the fire started and whether or not Harry Peak had anything to do with, and the amazing description of the fire itself. The amount of research, interviewing, and personal interest in libraries and their patrons' behavior was entertaining and enlightening. Central Library as with other aspects of Los Angeles is unique and captivating. If you have any interest at all in books or libraries, you should read this book.

4
4536o
May 10, 2020

My wife read and loved this book; we discussed her progress daily. I'm an aficionado of the original architect and know the architect who did the restoration and addition. Can vividly remember the first time coming across the pre-fire Central Library, at night, just around the corner from my hotel: it was stunning, way exotic even by LA standards. And even better as restored, if you can somehow overlook the loss of hundreds of thousands of books, many of them irreplaceable documents of early Southland history. If you care about libraries -- and why would you be reading a library string otherwise? -- you will likely find this a valuable read.

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IndyPL_ShainaS Jun 19, 2020

You don't need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage--the writer's belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.

IndyPL_ShainaS Jun 19, 2020

The idea of being forgotten is terrifying... Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.

IndyPL_ShainaS Jun 19, 2020

Any book accidentally shelved in the sections that burned; we will never know what they were, so we cannot know what we are missing.

IndyPL_ShainaS Jun 19, 2020

It wasn't that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured here, collected here, and in all libraries--and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up--not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.

t
thebritlass
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."

p
Panchesco
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.”

l
Liber_vermis
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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mrlacroix
Sep 05, 2019

mrlacroix thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

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MelissaBee
Jan 30, 2019

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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