Great Summer Read – The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Great Summer Read - The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I’m not often a joiner but when I saw the Los Angeles Times had started a book club I checked out their first book choice and it was one I intended to read anyway – so I joined. 

The book is Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book” which is a micro history using the 1986 library fire at the Central Library downtown as the starting off point for a wonderful walk through the creation of a Central Library, the hiring (and firing – and tumult caused by such firing) of the various head librarians who have been in charge, and an interesting look at the architecture involved in both the original building and the addition added post the fire. It was such a fun read I swallowed it over a few days after downloading it from the very library it discussed (because all the hard copies were already being borrowed).

Without reading this I wouldn’t have learned that the Atlanta library remained segregated until 1959.  Or that in the days when silence was important in libraries, head librarians summoned members of the staff to her desk (and she was often a she in those early days as being a librarian was an acceptable job for a woman) with one of those metal clickers they use to train dogs – each librarian had a morse-code like collection of clicks they would hear to tell them to come talk to their boss.  Or that in 1981 investigators found a woman selling used books out of her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel that she had taken from the LA Public Library — and she was making over $40,000 a year on that enterprise.  Who would even think up an idea like that?  Better yet, some studios would send assistants to the library to steal books needed for research so they wouldn’t have to bother remembering to renew them over the course of making the movie.

I could go on. Suffice it to say that if you LOVE books and LOVE or LOVED libraries at any time in your life, this is a fabulously interesting book to peruse this summer.

Her conclusion?  It is necessary to collect these books because “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.” 

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† Available from the LA Public Library


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