Run, don’t walk to your library and borrow Susan Orleans’ page-turner, The Library Book. Sure, you could download it or buy a copy. But it’s about libraries and library books, so getting it from the library seems like the right thing to do.
A devastating fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 prompted Orleans to undertake this story. And while the fire— the amount of damage, the arson suspect, the rebuilding, renovating and restocking are all part of the tale, there’s much more.
History of libraries. History of library fires. History of the LA library and its eclectic series of directors since its founding in 1926. And a love of reading and books, page after page, after page.
For non-fiction, it reads like a mystery, a romance, and a history. Orleans deftly lists statistics – numbers of books, periodicals, artworks, maps, and so on lost in the fire. She describes vividly the vast array of characters involved in the library’s story, past, and present.
There are plenty of anecdotes, each more interesting than the next. I loved the description of Ray Bradbury. Growing up in the Depression, he couldn’t afford college. So after high school, he spent the next 13 years at the LA Public Library, reading profusely, across genres, fact, and fiction. He called himself “library- educated.” With four small daughters at home, and unable to afford an office, he went to UCLA’s Powell Library to write, rented a typewriter for 10 cents an hour, and wrote “The Fireman.” Looking for a better title, he called the chief of the LA Fire Department and asked what temperature paper burns. Hence, Fahrenheit 451 was born. When the library burned in 1986, all the fiction from A-L was destroyed, including all books by Bradbury.
I’m a library lover from childhood. I remember being thrilled when I could get my own card. The general policy of public libraries is children can receive their own card when they can write their own name. I’ve witnessed this rite of passage with my children and grandchildren. I remember card catalogs, dates being stamped in the back of the book, and paper library cards. But I’m not nostalgic: wooden card catalogs have been repurposed, and I’m quite comfortable with using the online catalog.
I usually visit my local library weekly. I borrow fiction and non, travel guides, children’s’ books when I know the grands are visiting, and books on cd for the car. I love browsing the shelves with new acquisitions, sampling titles from genres I might normally overlook. I know the knitting book collection by heart and love when I search the stacks for a specific title, I end up scanning the shelves near the title, reading book flaps and backs, and borrowing even more books.