Flyer for the Peachy Books review of The Library with accompanying crochet bookmark inspired by the book.
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Listen to this review read-a-loud

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

My local library was my first true love, and will always remain the top place holder on my literary dance card. Growing up with a portal to unknown and enchanting worlds, only a ten-minute walk from my home was a blessing I took for granted in my early years, but is in no way lost on me now.

The nostalgia that Susan Orlean was able to elicit in The Library Book, transported me back in time to my childhood happy place. I would tear off on my bicycle and spend lazy summer days walking up and down the aisles, my eyes full of wonder at all there was to soak up about the world. It was an escape into better lands, ones filled with promise and hope, others offering solace in their dark authenticity. It was a refuge that I didn’t know I desperately needed at the time, and I’m so grateful for it when I look through the window of hindsight.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "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 Library Book’s focal point is the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown LA, as it chronicles the history, architecture, and most profoundly, the devastating fire that left more than 1 million books damaged or destroyed in its wake. April 29th of 2021 marked 35 years since this tragic disaster. The greatest loss to any public library in the United States history, the (first) LAPL fire was both a sad and fascinating story that begged to be told. Orlean offers us a true-crime retelling of the happenings on that fateful day in 1986, as we try to figure out why someone would do such a destructive thing to historical data, art, and literature that was as important to the citizens of LA as it was to humanity as a whole.

I enjoyed reading about the influential role libraries play in society, and how they are a hub for the young, new immigrants, and the homeless; where they can assist in education, and offer coordination for community resources. It was powerful to read about the City Librarian for Los Angeles, John Szabo, and how he had teamed up with local outreach programs, to assist his patrons, and the greater community.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "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."

Orlean had spent some time shadowing employees at the LAPL and shares with us the day-to-day of the motley cast of characters she encountered there. We get to know the people that served the position of head librarian over the years at the LAPL, learn about patrons, and community volunteers that lent their time and hearts to the teardown and restoration of the fire-damaged library. There was a long list of admirable philanthropists who donated their dollars to the costly and noble cause of its repair, celebrities included. Some participated in the Save The Books Telethon that aired to raise money for the replacement of the books that were lost in the blaze. If you’re interested, take five minutes to watch this spooky advertisement that was aired during the fundraiser.

I appreciated the intimate parallels Orlean shared, of her writing the book whilst her mother, the inspiration for her passion behind books and libraries, was fading away with dementia. I did, however, struggle with some of the excessive detail afforded some of the less interesting, fringe characters peppered throughout, and the more mundane events that were strung together to complete the timeline. At various intervals I had to really push myself to keep going. It could be that a local to LA might find these specifics more entertaining, but for this Canadian girl, it caused the story to drag on.

Overall, this was still worth the slow read for the shared library appreciation, fond memories, and some blogworthy quotes. And it was fun to web search all the LA libraries as they were mentioned along the way, just to add some visuals to the story. I love when a book has a game with it, haha. I’m not the only one that does this sort of thing, am I?

A 6.5 minute video recapping the fire:

Saving Central Library: Remembering the Fire and Recovery – LA Public Library

Here is the bookmark I made in honour of The Library Book:

Crochet bookmark of red books with flames on the front, inspired by the The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and made by Peachy Books.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean”

  1. Hi Peachy, Good to see you back in the book blogging world! I remember your BlogSpot days. Libraries have a special place in my heart too, and they really helped me to discover a love of reading as a kid and to sustain it as an adult, especially at times when money for buying books was tight. So I love the sound of this one, although I do take your warning about the book dragging in places. I’m far from LA too, so too much local detail might make my eyes glaze a bit 🙂 I didn’t know about that library fire!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Andrew, it’s so great to hear from you, especially after all of this time! I remember you also, although it seems like that was another world ago, haha. I’ve been over to take a peek at your website and I’m really looking forward to going through all of your work; you’ve been a busy lad! Thanks for reconnecting 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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