I think this is a great choice for library lovers! I enjoyed most of the tangents Orlean explored but can also see how the lack of focus on the fire alone might bother some readers who wanted a clear cut resolution of the mystery of the fire. I felt excited and energized by her reading of the librarians' hope for the future of librairies.
** spoiler alert ** "On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angles Public Library."
A wonderful inviting book that I just did not want to put down. I don't want to give to much away but below is a few snippets from the book.
"The day Elvis Presley died, someone checked out all the library's Elvis records and never returned them. The files about the Manson Family and about the Black Dahlia murder, which included clippings and ephemera, disappeared decades ago; they are essentially irreplaceable. In 1981, investigators discovered a women selling books out of the suited in a Beverly Hills hotel. She was earning approximately forty thousand dollars a year with her used-book business. All the the books had been stolen from the Las Angels Public Library."
"The first recorded instance of book burning was in 213 BC, when Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to incinerate any history books that contradicted his version of the past. In addition, he burned more than four thousand scholars alive."
"Burning books is an inefficient way to conduct a war, since books and libraries have no military value, but it is devastating act."
Now that is my kind of book. It is mixture of memoir,Biography, history, true crime with a dash of horror.
I highly recommend this book to history lovers.
Susan Orlean starts her story with the horror of the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, then shows readers the staggering aftermath; which leads her to show different aspects of the library -- both of the Los Angeles Library and others of interest.
The fire itself was horrific, reaching 2500 degrees, destroying 400,000 books and damaging 700,000 others. More than half of all the Los Angeles firefighters were used in the fire (350) that lasted 7.5 hours, injuring 50 fighters. Although the cause of the fire was arson, no one has been arrested for the damage. The statistics of what was used to contain the fire are staggering (3 million gallons of water, etc.).
The individual stories of some of the 200+ city librarians were shocking; PTSD, medical complaints, broken marriages, and residual fears. The author shows that being a librarian isn't necessarily 'just another job.' Many library workers were devastated by the loss of their collections. Amazingly, 2000 citizens came to the library after the fire to help box the remaining books and load them for future evaluation.
Carefully woven within this tragedy is a hopeful series of looks at libraries and what they mean to their patrons and how libraries are changing to meet the new needs of their communities (homeless folks who spend the day in a library). I enjoyed listening to the author read her story with passion and fire (pun intended).
Some have complained that the author spent too much time interviewing and reminiscing over the beginnings of the Los Angeles Library. I felt she was sharing the history of libraries in general. I think it makes for fascinating reading; who knew that a perfectly good head librarian could be replaced by another just because he was male (and hired at almost twice the salary of the preceding female)? Our history is often messy; but isn't it fascinating?
This book winds its way back to the story of who might have caused the fire; then did anyone cause the fire? The research she shared on this was impressive. There was one instance of the LA police thinking they had the culprit and then not having enough proof for a case. But of course, this is Hollywood and so LA decided to prosecute the young man in civil court. Harry Peal decided to counter-sue -- and the race was on.
Librarians, and the jobs they do, are generally unsung. Susan Orlean puts them in the spotlight by showing what interesting and valuable members of our society they each are. The author reminds us just how invaluable a service the library is to every community. 4.5 stars