On April 28, 1986 there was a huge fire at the LA Public Library. While this was obviously a big deal, the news got lost as Chernobyl happened the same day. When Susan Orlean moved to LA with her husband and son, she discovered this largely untold story and started doing some investigating. This book details the history of the LA Public Library, the fire itself, and the arson investigation that took place afterwards. Woven throughout that narrative is Orlean’s love letter to libraries themselves.
TL;DR – Orlean seamlessly intertwines several narratives. LA history, arson investigations, and the day-to-day of public libraries are all presented as equally fascinating.
First, let me say for anyone thinking about purchasing this book, it is GORGEOUS. Definitely bookstagrammable. However, if you decide to get the hardcover on Amazon (link above) just be warned that it does come with that “Reese’s book club” stamp (eye roll) which is not removable. If you would like an unmarred copy, I’d suggest getting a copy in person and B&N or something.
On to my review. My love affair with non-fiction continues! My husband helped me to discover recently that I’ve really been enjoying non-fiction books written by journalists (see Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and recently Kirk Wallace Johnson). Susan Orlean was a journalist for the New York Times before writing this book so she fits right in my wheelhouse. Plus libraries, so it was always going to be a slam dunk.
This story is actually so fascinating, but the parts I loved most about this book were the descriptions of the day-to-day life of the library. At the very beginning when she’s writing about the library opening for the day, I legitimately got chills. I loved seeing all the different departments from her perspective and I could definitely relate to some of the stories.
I also really liked how she opened each chapter with some catalog listings that fit what the chapter was going to be about. I just thought it was a really nice touch and I liked guessing what kind of stuff was going to be in each chapter.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. If you love libraries, read this book. If you love true crime, read this book. If you love LA, read this book.
Overall Rating: 5
Sexual Content: Mild