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Interesting story about the LA Public Library Fire in 1986 but I didn’t enjoy the style. It took too long to reveal the outcome of the arsonist. Some interesting history about some of the people who worked there.
I'm a librarian, so this book had floated across my radar in our professional circles. What got me officially reading was a recommendation from my mother. This was a fascinating read. If you love libraries, history, personal stories, true crime, and want to celebrate libraries, the places that we gravitate towards for socializing, learning and enrichment, then this will be a read you won't soon forget.
-Submitted by Kristen-
Read The Library Book by Susan Orlean! It’s an account of a fire in the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986 and its aftermath. It brings together research on arson and a suspected arsonist with a love of libraries and commentary on libraries and society. It’s suspenseful, witty and full of intriguing real life characters.
I have worked in libraries for over 30 years. When I saw this book arrive in our location, I knew I had to read it. I had no knowledge of this fire and the devastation it had caused. This book was a wonderful read and a mix of the history of the fire and the author's own history and her love of libraries and ready. Well worth the read, you will not be disappointed.
Orlean takes an affectionate, engrossing look at the history of the Central main library in Los Angeles; the many unique characters and events involved in its history and operation, and the circumstances surrounding the massive arson fire in 1986 that nearly destroyed it. Woven through the history are chapters detailing what life is like for those who work in the library today and how library service has both completely changed and yet remained the same. The story of the Central Library reflects both the story of Los Angeles itself and the realities of working in a modern library anywhere in the USA. As one of those latter folks, and as someone who grew up in the L.A. area, I took a particular interest in this book and found it quite fascinating.
It's both a love letter to the LA library that burned down in 1986 but also a good examination of the issues public libraries are fielding today. A fantastic read. One of my favourites so far this year
Using a fire at the main library in Los Angeles that was never solved, Susan Orlean takes us behind the scenes and makes us aware of all the moving parts of a large metropolitan library and then throws in the fascinating history and the characters who built the institution. If you love and revere books and libraries, you should read this!
I had seen this book on a few "must read" lists recently so I snagged my spot in line at the library (the wait-list was in the double digits when I joined it) and waited patiently. This was the first book I've read by this author, but I know it won't be my last. This was a story that was part mystery, part history. I really enjoyed it. Although I've lived in Southern California for over 13 years, I've never heard about the Los Angeles Public Library Fire in the late 80s. It burned for over 7 hours, had a heat of over 2000 degrees and damaged over a million books. Talk about a sad day in LA! The story did jump around a bit from chapter to chapter, but I really enjoyed how the book titles at the beginning of each chapter described what could be expected (super clever!). A few of the sections on past employees of the library seemed to drag a little longer than I would have liked, but otherwise I stayed interested and engaged the entire time. Shoot, it even motivated me to look and see if there were any positions available at my local library (AND APPLY TO ONE THAT WAS CURRENTLY OPEN!). I love how the research the author did for this book rekindled a love for physical books (especially in the age of e-readers) and the library as a whole. I fell in love with the library a couple years ago, so this book is right up my alley! I would give it a 9 out of 10.
Full of interesting characters, including the most interesting main branch of the Los Angeles public library.
Entertaining,informative . Also a mystery of sorts about the LA library fire.
All you wanted to know about libraries but were afraid to ask. 5 stars
Orlean is an interesting writer.
When my book club suggested this I thought it was a true crime novel. But it was a lot of history and it didn't have the flow of an Erik Larson novel. I skimmed, then I skipped entire chapters. This book was a bore.
Standing in applause, the research alone is worth 5 stars and Orlean’s writing is top-notch, worthy of many accolades and choice awards.
Second time around - Kindle
Downtowner's Book Group Read, Kansas City, MO
Loving this book more than the first time around as my son took me to the Downtown Central Library in Los Angeles for a docent-led-tour on my birthday. All of the participants were from out-of-town and came after reading Susan Orlean's book which created a more attentive audience as many places/items were discussed in the book.
This was a delightful surprise. Although it started by capturing my attention with the massive 1986 fire at the LA Central Library, it quickly moves to giving you the history of the library, a glimpse into the leadership and the present day librarians. What an imaginative group of librarians were involved in the library over the years as they expanded its services, books, and other media. I had to go visit my own community library right away after finishing it. Perfect for a book club topic.
📚🔥 It’s every librarian’s nightmare. A devastating loss to a vibrant city’s collective culture and memory. In 1986, the same week as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown crisis in Russia, the Los Angeles Central Library was set ablaze by an arsonist. The fire spread quickly through the old building and incinerated everything in its path, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of thousands of books and priceless archival items were reduced to ash. Hundreds of thousands more were irreversibly damaged or severely threatened by water and smoke damage. The next day, thousands of volunteers converged on the building and formed a human chain, handing waterlogged books out of the building and rushing them to local commercial freezers to prevent mold from destroying them forever. An extraordinary paean to the glory of libraries and their uniquely important place in the American social edifice. Author Susan Orlean combines a detailed journalistic style with her characteristically vivid and evocative prose to do more than simply tell the tale of a devastating fire and rebirth. Along the way, she rekindles her (and our) love for the American public library, and illustrates why this beloved institution perpetually rises from the ashes, again and again. 📖
I wasn't sure what this book was about when I began it, but I was pleasantly surprised and loved it. Some parts were a little dry and almost felt unnecessary, but overall the details were good and didn't slow the plot down at very much. I had no idea there even was a library fire then, but now I want to go to LA and visit their new building.
Fantastic read. From the way the blurb read I thought I was picking up a mystery or even a thriller. The Library Book is a non-fiction, but Orlean tells such a great story you are entertained from the first words.
Chapter one filled me with nostalgia -- her words about going to the library with her mother took me back to my own child and young adulthood when every Wednesday night -- the night our local library was open late -- we traveled into town to pick out our reads for the next week. Both my parents were avid readers and they had a collection of books -- my dad had a collection of the "Worlds Greatest Literature" and a full set of Charles Dickens from his just childhood in the early 1900's -- like 1920's and forward.
Orlean then introduces her readers to the earliest librarians in Los Angeles's Central Branch and the man suspected of setting fire to the library. Chapters on great libraries, libraries destroyed in war or in an effort to destory history as we know it. The people who built them and how the library is more than just books.
This is a must read for anyone who reads. And if you aren't a reader, and you find your way to this review, do check it out -- it will make you one.
A must-read for library lovers and bibliophiles. Yes, there is a lot of disjointed motion across completely different subjects, and the crime itself is only a tiny dab of glue trying to hold the three books together. But the crime of the library arson (book 1 within) is horrific to the central audience, the library history of the L.A. Public (book 2) is its own well-told narrative, and the basic overview of current Library operations (book 3) can be revealing to all interested in libraries today. Wisps of personal memoir float above the complex of these other narratives, the "love letter" that Orlean wants to write to this most American kind of institution.
With all due respect to the fine writers and editors of the New Yorker Magazine and to those folks who love it, here are my comments about this book: Like any New Yorker article, this book is at least three times longer than it needs to be to cover the purported topic. Unlike most New Yorker articles, however, the extraneous material in this book was actually pretty interesting!
This book is only tangentially about the LA Central library fire and the suspect that was questioned. It is not a 'true crime" book by a long shot.
I haven't read any other of Orlean's books but at least this one seemed to be all over the place. She couldn't decide if it wanted to be about libraries overall and their current iterations, the LA library system and its history, or something more personal about her relationship with libraries. The descriptions of each of the people and places discussed were a bit too flowery for my taste.
It would have been more enjoyable if it were more focused on the fire itself, the LA library system and its history or the history of libraries and their current formats.
That being said, I really enjoyed the portion that was the history of the LA library system, and felt dissatisfied by the conclusion that was made on the library fire and its perpetrator. Those sections were almost worth sitting through the rest of her personal histories and overall state of the library field, including the trip to ALA in Chicago. Almost.
The devastating library fire and the search for an arsonist is just the starting point for author Susan Orlean. This wide-ranging book considers the history of libraries, the future of libraries in the digital age, the social role of libraries in cities, and the processes for the restoration of fire- and water-damaged books. This reader would have appreciated an isometric, cut-away drawing of the Los Angeles Central Library in order to understand the location and path of the fire as described by Orlean (a picture is worth a thousand words). Occasionally, the author's comparisons seem off, for instance when she describes the impact of the heat of an L.A. afternoon as "like a blast from a water cannon" when "like a blast from a hair dryer" might be more apropos. The book ends with a bibliography.
I thought this book was absolutely terrific. Orlean details the fascinating history of of the Los Angeles public library, with the focus on the devestating fire of 1986. You get a profile of the primary suspect in that fire; a survey of all of the head librarians at the LA library up until that time; a history of the building; a fair amount about fires and in particular book burning; and a meditation on the future of libraries. And that is just some of the topics Orlean covers in this highly readible book. If you love libraries, it is a must read.
Literary non fiction at it's finest. Very encouraging to read that libraries outnumber McDonalds in the USA.
If u like non fiction/ fiction this is great. Amazing statistics of the damage.
Anyone who has worked in a library will find much with which to commiserate and celebrate in this story of the Los Angeles Public Library - the colourful characters who founded and nourished it, oversaw its move into the current grand central library, and managing the devastating loss of thousands of books and other valuable items in the 1986 fire. After 30 years in public libraries, I often found myself nodding in recognition at the dilemmas, changes, and successes over the library's history. Even if you have never worked in a library, however, you will find much to enjoy in this tale of a little California city that grew exponentially over the last century - and the central library it spawned. I was especially impressed with Orlean's thorough research that brought depth, texture and nuance to this history of the city and the library - and certainly captured well the essence of what it means to work in a North American public library.