Audiobook, History, Non Fiction

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book

On April 29, 1986, the Los Angeles Central Public Library caught fire and burned for over seven hours. By the time the fire was extinguished, over 400,000 books were destroyed and almost double that number were damaged. This book explores that event but also lays tribute to the history of that library (and others!) and the author’s personal memories of her early library experiences, along with the investigation of what caused the fire. It was thought to be arson and the primary suspect was a man named Harry Peak, an unemployed actor.

I’d never heard about this fire (the author posits as to why not), the largest and worst library fire ever, so naturally I was intrigued by that factoid alone. What I loved about this book was the overwhelming wealth of information about the past librarians, and history of the Central Library; other notable library histories globally and connections to world events; and the evolution of fire investigation and how it related to this event. In a word, it was all fascinating. Each librarian left an indelible imprint on the library, their contribution to a vibrant institution.

While the transitions between the topics were often awkward, I enjoyed that there were shifts as it kept things interesting. The weaving of personal stories, colorful librarian histories and the community connections made this something special.

I listened to the book, narrated by the author, and though I liked it, I believe I would have loved the book more if I’d read it, giving me a better opportunity to more slowly digest these stories and facts. Orlean did a good job in her reading and I’m not certain a professional narrator would have changed the experience. It’s a lot of wonderful information that I found enlightening but difficult to accept how little I knew about our libraries and the issues they have always faced.

If you love books and have any kind of connection to libraries, physical or digital, you really must read this book. It evokes a strong reaction as your personal memories and attachments will also arise and consume you. You’ll have to form your own conclusion, though, regarding whether or not Harry Peak set that library on fire.

By the way, I borrowed this from my digital library🥰

Book Info

  • Release Date: October 16, 2018
  • Narrator: Author
  • Audio Length: 12 hours, 9 minutes
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio



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34 thoughts on “The Library Book by Susan Orlean”

  1. I absolutely loved this book, was my favorite last year…happy to see you review it and that you liked it too! There was so much about libraries and their roles in communities that I didn’t realize, especially about how it’s changing. And she captured so well the special significance they hold for people. I was even surprised at how fascinating I found everything around the fire to be, too. It was so info-packed that it’s definitely one to reread, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review! I loved this book as well, and loved how the author used the fire as a jumping off point to tell so many related stories. Although I love audiobooks, I think this one wouldn’t have worked for me –too many details to track!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like a great way to get some insight into the history of the library, not to mention the librarians.

    I have always thought, it seems like you have a very good library with a great selection of books, even quite recent publications. Unfortunately my local library is nowhere near that standard, but I still love the concept of a library.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a WONDERFUL history book about our US library systems!

      I primarily use our digital library, powered by OverDrive but my city physical library has a well organized approach to using the branches. I can go online and request books be delivered to my local branch and then be notified by phone when it’s ready for pickup. Generally, I’m requesting audiobooks that aren’t online but available in the branches or central library system.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tina! This was a win for everyone. We have a pretty diverse group of readers, one of them a retired librarian and another never having walked into a library before, so it was a rich discussion. All were amazed that we’d never heard about this fire and very much appreciated the history of the library and its librarians. The community element was fascinating to all. Funny, we all believed the transitions were clunky and there were lots of tangents but we wouldn’t change a thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like the perfect book club read!
        I am also surprised I haven’t heard about this fire. I moved to LA about a month or two after the fire. I was in high school so I’m sure I was all wrapped up in teenage drama. 😂

        Liked by 1 person

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