The Library Book

The Library Book

Book Club Kit - 2018 | Book club edition
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"On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, "Once that first stack got going, it was 'Goodbye, Charlie." The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library--and, if so, who? Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before. In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present--from Mary Foy; who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as "The Human Encyclopedia" who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves. Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean's thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books--and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist's reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever."--Jacket.
Publisher: New York : Simon and Schuster, 2018
Edition: Book club edition
ISBN: 9781476740188
Branch Call Number: 027.479494 OR53L 2018
Characteristics: 15 books (317 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm) + 1 binder, in bin (27 x 42 x 28 cm.)


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Aimee M Trudel
Sep 17, 2019

Jan Reynolds' recommendation - NF

Sep 13, 2019

On April 29, 1986, the largest library fire in American history engulfed the Los Angeles City Library, damaging or destroying more than one million books, not to mention countless other media. Long considered arson, the true cause of the fire has remained a mystery. In alternating chapters, Susan Orlean tells three stories: that of the fire, its aftermath and investigation; the founding and history of the city library itself; and the library and its services today in the 21st century.

News of library and museum fires is devastating, imagining thousands of irreplaceable information and artifacts of human history going up in smoke -- my heart aches when thinking about the Library of Alexandria and, more recently, the National Museum of Brazil, which tragically went up in flames one year ago this month. This is a difficult read at times, but the salvaging process and the investigation of the fire are fascinating, and the chapters about the library's history are full of colorful characters and interesting controversies.

Sep 07, 2019

This is a captivating story about the great fire of the Central Library of Los Angeles in 1986 and of various characters who have populated this library's history -- Mary Jones, Charles Lummis and suspected arsonist Harry Peak among them. Some U.S. and worldwide history of libraries and the role they play in civilized society is tossed in. Thirty-two short chapters.

Unfortunately, the text -- on just about every page -- is marred by superfluous adjectives, awkward or inappropriate metaphors or sometimes whole sentences stating the obvious. Very surprising to come from a staff writer of the New Yorker and in light of the multiple thank-yous to various editors on the Acknowledgement pages. I found these deficiencies very irritating at first but they kept coming so I had to make an effort to read over them to allow the story to continue.

A index, at least of names, would have been helpful.

I came to this book as a result of a laudatory review article by Sue Halpern in the New York Review of April 18, 2019. She didn't warn me about the poor writing style!

Sep 05, 2019

Amazing read. Susan takes an ostensibly boring topic - the LA library system - and breathes life into every employee, patron, and branch. I loved this book from start to end, but I think it's good to go in knowing that less than half the content is about the library fire.

Aug 23, 2019

Interesting read if you live in California and are familiar with the LA public library.

Jul 27, 2019

A book to treasure! Ostensibly an account of the 1986 fire that devastated the Los Angeles Central Library, The Library Book is a love-letter to all libraries and librarians. After savoring this as a library loan on Kindle, I felt compelled to buy the hardcover edition to keep and share with my daughter who is studying to become a librarian.

Jul 26, 2019

The book tells about the fire that closed the main LA library but this book is also a interesting read for anyone who enjoys libraries and would like to know more about the history of how they came to be, what functions they served as they grew and what the future will have in store for the users of the library. I found it interesting that budget cuts have always had to have people's services limited.

Jul 24, 2019

Ostensibly a reportage of the fire that engulfed Los Angeles’s Central Library on April 28, 1986, “The Library Book” is so much more. Susan Orlean weaves a rich and layered tapestry as she flits from strand to strand, from past to present, from one unforgettable character to the next, crafting a story that is part true crime, part history, part memoir. It is an ode to and celebration of books, of libraries, and of librarians. Orlean is a book lover, and this is a book lover’s book: a book for those of us who frequent their local library, who amble and linger too long in bookstores, who relish in the smell of paper and ink, who’d rather browse the collections of strangers than mingle with other party guests, who know that the books on someone’s shelf can tell you everything you need to know about him.

Still, this is a slight book, one that often feels padded, as if there wasn’t enough content down any one avenue to carry the full story. I’ve seen documentaries that clearly had to make the best of a hypothesis gone sideways, but this might be the first book I’ve read that gave me that same feeling. It’s a minor complaint, one that’s easy to make when it’s also so easy to imagine a long-form New Yorker article, where Orlean is a staff writer, that accomplishes more with less. Despite the nitpicking, there is much here for booklovers to savor. If you count yourselves one of the multitude, this quick read is well worth your time.

Jul 20, 2019

Author writes of her life-long love of libraries and all they represent while also telling the tale of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Central Library and the man believed by many to be the arsonist.

An engaging well-told tale. Amazing how author seamlessly takes us on a journey of mystery, history, people and places having to do with libraries. Impressive.

Jul 18, 2019

wonderfully written...characters of all types and a curirous author who wants to know their stories...but also willing to show us that there was no cut and dry answer about the cause of the fire , as well as the sad fate of the prime suspect...a cornucopia of information about libraries and their importance to us in the so called information or digital beloved institutions which bring us together in real time as well as virtual sure to look at the inside of the back's a treat

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Aug 01, 2019

"In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned....our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual's consciousness is a collection of memories we've cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share; one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it--with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited - it takes on a life of its own."

Jul 08, 2019

“Sometimes it's harder to notice a place you think you know well; your eyes glide over it, seeing it but not seeing it at all. It's almost as if familiarity gives you a kind of temporary blindness. I had to force myself to look harder and try to see beyond the concept of library that was so latent in my brain.”

Mar 19, 2019

"When I first learned that the library had a shipping department ... I couldn't think of anything a library needed to ship. I came to learn that what gets shipped ... [are] books traveling from one branch to another. The shipping department at Central moves thirty-two thousand books - the equivalent of an entire branch library - around the city of Los Angeles five days a week. It is as if the city has a bloodstream flowing through it, oxygenated by books." (p. 61)


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Sep 05, 2019

mrlacroix thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

Jan 30, 2019

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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