I’ve been a low-key Reese Witherspoon fan my whole life and a high-key fan since Big Little Lies. When she announced that her bookclub’s January pick was The Library Book by Susan Orlean, I already had it on hold through my Libby app but I was suddenly actually excited to listen to it. Even though I’m a librarian and work at a library, I wasn’t super interested in the book but it had been getting a lot of media attention and I figured I should read it. As it happens, everyone in the world should read this book!
In 1986 the most catastrophic library fire in US history engulfed the Los Angeles Public Library. It was probably arson and, to quote Orlean, “a bumbling young man” was swept up in the investigation. The book is true crime and history, investigation and ode. It is difficult to describe a book that is so sweeping in scope yet particular to one institution. To say that The Library Book is a book about the LA Public Library fire doesn’t capture the breadth of stories Orlean expertly weaves together. A book fire is just the hook.
Having a vested interest in the history of libraries and being partial to historic-true-crime novels, I am certainly the intended audience for The Library Book. Nevertheless, Orlean’s familiar and unaffected style is appealing and her research is objectively impressive. I recommend this book to anyone with a penchant for historic-true-crime such as Killers of the Flower Moon or any books by Eric Larson. Those who have any interest whatsoever in the arts, humanities, books, history, or even LA would also enjoy The Library Book. Lastly, if you’re a librarian or work in libraries or you’re considering a career in libraries or you know a librarian or you use the library or you once visited a library when you were little, this book is essential reading.
Cover image from @booksandpolkadots on Instagram.