‘The Library Book’, by Susan Orlean

“The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.”

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Well, this book was just lovely. At its core, ‘The Library Book’ is the story of the devastating 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library. While Orlean does investigate this unsolved arson case, the book overall is so much more than that. Orlean writes lyrically about libraries and their place through history as well as in our world today. This is a real love letter to libraries and the people that work in them.

Throughout ‘The Library Book’, Orlean weaves together her own experiences of libraries with conversations with librarians and other library visitors. She explores the significance libraries have in different communities and demonstrates the way librarians work tirelessly to improve the wellbeing and education of the people around them. Her descriptions of the various heads of the LA library through time are witty and sensitive, and the honesty of her portrayal of different characters connected to the library makes the story heartwarming and humorous.

As well her choice of subject matter, Orlean’s choice of language makes this book special. Much of the book is recounting facts; Orlean discusses book burning through history, the architectural decisions behind the LA Public Library, and gender equality and racism in connection to libraries, amongst many other topics. But despite its grounding in real-life events, Orlean’s writing is filled with vivid imagery and creative, sometimes philosophical observations. For example, she describes the way “our minds and souls contain volumes made of our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve catalogued and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived.” The language is simply beautiful.

I learnt so much from reading this book and felt inspired to rediscover libraries. The true crime elements of the book are shocking, the recounts of the efforts people went to to restore the library were moving, and everything else about ‘The Library Book’ reminded me why I love reading. I finished this book feeling motivated to pop into my local library and am sure other readers will feel the same! I definitely recommend this wonderful book for anybody who has fond memories of libraries, or just anybody who loves to read.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for giving me this book free of charge in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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