The Library Book, Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster, 2018, 310 pp
If you love libraries chances are you will enjoy this book. It includes American library history, true crime coverage of the Los Angeles Public Library fire of 1986, a history of that library, and more.
The main suspect in the LAPL fire was an enigmatic fellow by the name of Harry Peak. Orlean opens the book with him and in alternating sections continues his story along with the investigation into the fire. That investigation failed to prove that he started the fire or even to prove that it was arson that started it. I learned that a surprisingly high percentage of arsonists are firefighters. What?
It is a wonder that we still have a main branch of our library in downtown Los Angeles. The destruction of the building and of so many books was devastating. Librarians, the public, and some very savvy people all contributed to its survival and rebuilding. A heartwarming tale of people working together.
Some of my reading group members were less than thrilled by the way Susan Orlean put the book together. It does skip around but it worked fine for me. She plays on the love of libraries that those of us who were taken there by our mothers from a young age will never forget.
She also does a great service to our culture by showing how important they are as repositories of knowledge. I had no idea of the many records libraries hold, especially the main libraries of cities. The records go beyond books to include music scores, maps and dozens of other arcane references.
I was also struck by the many services libraries provide to all ages and peoples, including immigrants, illiterates, and the homeless. Librarians, even the strict and sometimes crabby ones, are a liberal bunch who believe in the power of writing, in privacy, and rights for all. They recognize each other as "library people." I love that! I love libraries. I use mine even more than I do bookstores.