The Library Book: Book Review

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

It wasn’t that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured, collected here, and in all libraries — and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up–not just stopped but saved.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

A love letter to libraries, to books, to the audacity of our human need to preserve and pass on stories, The Library Book is filled to the brim with delightful observations on all of these things and more.

Susan Orlean weaves two stories together, a parallel account of the Los Angeles Central Public Library fire in the 1980s and the greater history of libraries throughout time, but more specifically focusing on US public libraries.

In 1986, a fire broke out in the LA Central Public Library, causing catastrophic damage to the building, the collection, and the psyche of a community on the brink of such historic events as the AIDS epidemic and the LA Riots. A man named Harry Peak is considered suspect due to a mercurial ebb of alibis and a questionable mental composition. As Orlean relates the details of the fire she takes us back through time exploring our nation’s history with libraries and their changing mission.

I should preface my review with the fact that I am a professional librarian and this book offers many flattering views towards my career and greatest passion, reading. As such it is impossible to remain impartial.

Of course I loved this book and the compliments paid to myself and my colleagues as a whole. Orlean’s often nostalgic observations on the nature of public libraries, the public’s expectation of them, resonates deeply with my own understanding and experience working in a library and using them recreationally. The story structure is interesting and allows the reader to seamlessly travel with the author as she moves from the LA Library fire to historic milestones in library history.

The Library Book is perfect for fans of books about books, stories that celebrate the bibliophile and the places they inhabit. Though non-fiction, it reads with the ease of a light-hearted novel.

My Rating

4/5 Stars