The Library Book by Susan Orlean came out in 2018 to rave reviews in library circles. I’m glad I got around to reading it! As a lifelong book lover who writes books and works in a library, this book resonated with me. I read it in small sections (at lunch at work!) to make it last longer. 🙂
Central to the book is a devastating fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986. The cause of the fire was never established, despite the existence of a suspicious character who might have been there that morning. The backbone of the book is the fire, the fruitless investigation into its cause, and the hard but finally successful recovery from the fire. On that backbone, Ms Orleans arranges all kinds of good information. She tells the turbulent history of that library from its founding on. Along the way, she reflects on her own lifelong love of libraries. She even describes experimentally burning a book – a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 (!)
Here’s one of many wonderful passages in this book that’s all about libraries, librarians, books, and being human.
The silence was more soothing than solemn. A library is a good place to soften solitude; place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. The library is a whispering post. 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. . . . 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.
The inside back cover has a picture of a traditional library book pocket and card. And that’s charming.