Gulf Coast Reads 2019: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Cover - The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Bright Rea with double line gold frame around title and author nameOn the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

Photo portrait of author Susan Orlean Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin TinSaturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York and may be reached at SusanOrlean.com and Twitter.com/SusanOrlean.

Los Angeles Public Library’s Saving Central Library: Remembering the Fire and Recovery:

Los Angeles Fire Department Testimony about the LAPL Central Library Fire

Book Repair for Beginners 
from Syracuse University Library Department of Preservation and Conservation

How to Repair a Wet Book
from Syracuse University Library Department of Preservation and Conservation

Gulf Coast Reads The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Cover: The Library Book by Susan OrleanGulf Coast Reads is delighted to announce that The Library Book, Susan Orlean’s bestseller about the mysterious 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, is the 2019 selection for our annual regional read-along.  Gulf Coast Reads may best be described as a friendly neighborhood book club on steroids. This October, public and academic libraries along with private and public community partners will encourage everyone across southeast Texas to read and discuss The Library Book, attend special events and generally engage with the region's vast community of readers.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the Los Angeles Public Library fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. The author delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity. Orlean brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reportingstudies arson, and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. 

This October, along with book discussions, libraries and partner organizations will host a wide variety of special programs and events drawing on The Library Book’s subject and themes. Stay tuned here for more details about Gulf Coast Reads events in your neck of the woods and across southeast Texas.

Follow Gulf Coast Reads on Facebook & Twitter @GulfCoastReads

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