Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Library Book - Susan Orlean -------------------- 4 Stars

I really enjoyed The Library Book (non-fiction) by Susan Orlean. Published a few years ago, it was a pleasure to read as it covered a variety of loosely connected stories and items related to libraries.

The premise of this book is the author's quest to learn more about a massive fire that destroyed Los Angeles' largest library in April 1986. If, like me, you were unaware of this event, you are not alone. It occurred one day after the Chernobyl disaster and received little media coverage. To make even more interesting, it's highly likely the fire was an arson and there is a mystery about the suspected arsonist.

As the book begins telling the background about this story and the devastation of the fire, it then moves into a variety of vignettes all related to libraries. The author then weaves in her investigation about the fire and arson while sprinkling in side stories about librarians (local and famous (if there is such a thing)), types of libraries (old and new), and other interesting connections to libraries.

As I mentioned to start, this was an enjoyable read. To begin with, the retelling of the fire and mystery about how it occurred is quite interesting. Orlean goes into some real depth about how fires work and why libraries are particularly good sources for fires to burn (hint - it's filled with books). I learned more than I ever thought I could. From there, her biography about the accused arsonist is also intriguing.  

Perhaps why the book is so engaging is the author's strong and fun writing style. Combining a mix of adroit word usage with a flair for understanding the humor and realism of her subjects, I rarely was bored. No matter what she might be covering, perhaps a story about a 19th century librarian who walked the West, she tells the story in a way that makes it impossible to not want to continue reading.

While on the surface, this book might appear boring - how interesting can a book about libraries be? It's actual quite the opposite. From the beginning mystery about about the LA library fire, to the many side stories about library history, I am confident if you give this book a chance, you'll enjoy this book too.

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