No surprise–I loved The Library by Susan Orlean. But it is not a typical narrative non-fiction like Orlean’s earlier books. The book’s chapters are only loosely connected around the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, and the fire that destroyed the flagship Central Library building in 1986. (Why don’t you remember reading about this historic conflagration which burned for seven hours and destroyed four hundred thousand books? Happened on the same day as Chernobyl, April 29, 1986.)
But if you like libraries, there is much to enjoy. How books are acquired, shelved, transported, and salvaged. How libraries are funded, constructed, designed, secured, and staffed. How reading supports, educates, and uplifts communities. And tragically, how libraries burn.
Contrary to popular belief, libraries then and now are not static, somber spaces led by fussy ladies. Early librarians were an unconventional bunch as were many of the patrons. Orlean displays her usual knack for ferreting out the quirky characters and curious details of a story.
And the book design is clever too!