I really enjoyed this book by long-time New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. She takes the terrible 1986 fire at the main Los Angeles Public Library and tells a multi-latered story of libraries, municipal politics, criminal arson and theft, mental illness, and a love for books and reading. I learned a lot about libraries and about librarians with their passionate devotion to the books in their charge and to the users of the library. The familiar 20th century story of women being discounted is another sad part of this narrative, as is the terrible history of books being burned out of fear.
Throughout the book, Orlean reflects on the power and function of libraries. She came to write the story remembering her childhood journeys to the library with her mother. At the end of the book, the author writes: A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you can feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off the shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage – the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect books and manuscripts and preseve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.
Go to your local library and check out The Library Book!