Monday, December 31, 2018

Despite Excited Buzz, The Library Book Is A Little Disappointing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The Library Book by journalist Susan Orlean has gotten so much buzz this year that you probably already know exactly what it's about.  Just in case you've been living in a remote cave on the edge of civilization, here's the blurb from the back of the book:

On the morning of April 29, 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 fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “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 New York Times 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. 

I love libraries and books about libraries and books about books, so naturally I was excited to read this one.  Orleans' examination of the devastating fire and her ruminations about books/reading in general are fascinating, but The Library Book still got dull for me in places.  It made for such slow reading that I actually put the volume down several times.  In the end, I enjoyed the read overall, but I didn't love it like I thought I would.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, and references to sex and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Library Book from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

3 comments:

  1. I know a lot of people love this one, but I can see where it could bog down, too. You need to get out of the bookish doldrums and find some really good reads for next year! ;D

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  2. Being a librarian that title compels me to check this one out. Probably what the author had in mind. I haven’t put it on my list, though, and not sure I will.

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  3. I hadn't heard of this one, but it intrigues me (and the beginning paragraph up there made me mentally scream; ALL THOSE BOOKS, DESTROYED! *sobs*). I can see how it may be a slow read, but it definitely sounds like it would be up my alley. I'll keep an eye out for it. :)

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