The Library Book by Susan Orlean The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Narrator: the author
Published by Simon Schuster Audio on October 16, 2018
Source: Purchased
Genres: Non-fiction, True Crime
Length: 12 hrs 9 mins
Format: Audiobook
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three-stars

On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. The fire was disastrous: it reached two thousand 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 “delightful…reflection on the past, present, and future of libraries in America” (New York magazine) that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In the “exquisitely written, consistently entertaining” (The New York Times) 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; brings each department of the library to vivid life; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

“A book lover’s dream…an ambitiously researched, elegantly written book that serves as a portal into a place of history, drama, culture, and stories” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis), Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks 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.

I should have loved The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It’s both a love letter to libraries and a true crime story of the Los Angeles library fire of 1986; crime and books is often a great combination. While it didn’t live up to my expectations, it was a good book.

Orlean obviously loves libraries and we learn so much about them here, history, inner workings, the populations they serve and the needs they meet. We learn about the variety of librarians, their passions, their jobs, their backgrounds. She also visits OverDrive, which I didn’t know is in Cleveland. I wonder if they offer tours of the facility?

The true crime portion focuses on the Los Angeles library fire, which was deemed arson at the time, although Orlean speaks to at least one expert who thinks that was probably not true. As the blurb states, the fire was devastating, but I found the way the community pulled together to help save the books they could and raise money was amazing.

Harry Peak was shortly accused of setting the fire. I felt bad for him, to be honest. I doubt he did it, but he had a tendency to lie, to want to be the center of attention, and got caught up in the mess. He ended up dying of complications from HIV/AIDS in 1993.

The Library Book contains a lot, but for me, the information is presented a little randomly and without focus. It was all interesting, but a little rambling. I listened to the audio narrated by Orlean and that probably didn’t help. The writing style is fine, but the reading was maybe slower than I’m used to, more deliberate and less emotional? dramatic? I’m not sure of the right word. Maybe just less. And the books titles with the library catalog information at the beginning of each chapter were a nice tidbit, good introductions to the chapters, but they just didn’t work as well on audio as I imagine they did in print.

I would still recommend The Library Book, especially for people who love libraries and books, but don’t necessarily expect to love it. It’s good, but not amazing. And pick it up in print, not audio.

About Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean (born October 31, 1955) is a journalist and author. She has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992, and has contributed articles to many magazines including Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside.

She is the author of several books, including 1998’s The Orchid Thief, which was adapted into the film Adaptation (2002). Meryl Streep received an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Orlean.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

11 Comments

    1. Definitely, but I never seem to know in advance. I’ll have heard which ones are better as audio, but not those that are better in print. And then, once I’ve picked a format, it’s hard for me to switch.

  1. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this one more! I was less bothered by the author’s digressions in this book than in The Orchid Thief because I found all of her tangents so fascinating. I could see that not working for everyone though and I certainly don’t disagree that she rambled. I was curious if the chapter headers would be included in an audio version. I had to spend some time thinking about how they connected to the story, so I don’t think I’d have enjoyed them as much in that format.

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