For bibliophiles, the thought of a library catching fire and torching hundreds of thousands of books, is horrific. That such a fire would be an act of arson is unthinkable. Yet that is exactly what happened at the Los Angeles Central Library on April 29, 1986, which raged for more than seven hours, destroying or damaging more than a million books. It is considered the largest library disaster in American history.
In The Library Book, which I just finished reading, Susan 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,” says publisher, Simon and Schuster.
Orlean speaks movingly about her late mother, who introduced her to the library in Cleveland and instilled in her a love for these cathedrals of learning and art that contain “the looping, unending story of who we are.”
“This is why I wanted to write this book,” she explains, “to tell people about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.”
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.
“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.”
― Susan Orlean, The Library Book
What about you? Take some time to consider these questions. Then, write about your experience with libraries as a child or an adult.
What does the library mean to you? Is there one library in particular that you have a special memory of? Where was it? When did you go there? Who was with you? What happened?
Can you relate to the passion Susan Orlean has for libraries and the books therein?
Did you go to the library or visit the bookmobile as a child, maybe to attend story-time or check out your first books? What was that like? Who took you?
What about as a young adult or grown-up? Who else was there? What was it like? What sections of the library did you naturally gravitate towards, and why? What did you like or not like about the library? How did you come to feel about going to or being in the library? How has the library impacted your experience of books today? Your writing?
We would love to hear about your library experiences. If you’d like, please share your stories in the comments section below.