Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“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.”

The Library Book practically sings with the music of gorgeously crafted sentences. It’s part history, part mystery, and all love letter to libraries – the books that fill them, the patrons that use them, and the staff that keeps them humming along.

It centers around a 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library that destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. The Fire Department said it was arson; but if so, who was the culprit? You’ll have to read the book to see how that tale unfolds.

However, it delves into far more than the fire itself. It reaches back into the history of the LAPL, the characters who led and shaped it over the years, the services it offered in the past and now that go far beyond the loaning of books. It looks at the history of libraries around the world, their impact, and their special place in the communities they serve.

Many great libraries have burned, countless irreplaceable treasures lost for eternity. They often were burned intentionally as an act of war. The destruction of libraries gains no military advantage, but nevertheless it takes a toll on the society under attack. The book’s description of the many lost libraries of the world is equally fascinating and heartbreaking. As Orlean wrote:

“Taking books away from a culture is to take away its shared memory. It’s like taking away the ability to remember your dreams. Destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never lived.”

Orlean also celebrates the beauty of the community gathering spot that is the library. It’s a place to study, to get in out of the elements, to attend a free course or lecture. A place to sit alone and read or work, yet still be with others. It’s even a place to find help when there’s nowhere else to turn. Libraries have long served as a temporary respite from the streets for the homeless, and some, like the LAPL, focus on outreach to help those in need.

If you love libraries and cherish books, I highly recommend The Library Book. Be warned: reading it will make you long for photos to go with the vivid descriptions of the LAPL. But that’s easily solved – you can find photos here.

Buy The Library Book on Amazon

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This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info

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