What a writer Susan Orleans is. In The Library Book, Orleans shows her skills at weaving a deep dive into a topic (public libraries), history, crime (the fire at the Los Angeles library), and her own personal story (she writes this book for her mother, who is dying as she begins this book and has died when she ends). Orleans’ talent is such that you don’t even notice the way she has artistically structured all of this — you only know that you are in deep, and you don’t want to stop reading.
This is more than a book about libraries. It is a book about the heartbeat of shared public spaces, about the ways a community gathers together, about shared experiences, about the power of stories to guide us forward, about how we preserve the past to guide us into the future and navigate the present. It is all that, and more.
The Library Book is also an ode to our geeky hearts, those of us who loved libraries as kids, who still love libraries as adults, and if you are lucky like me, those of us who are married to a librarian. (I quickly passed this book to her). Orleans’ narrative focuses on the fire that nearly destroyed the main library of Los Angeles, and then weaves her stories of the people, the books, the experiences that connect to the library, before pulling back on the larger picture of how libraries function in our communities as vital cogs beyond literacy.
You don’t need to love libraries to enjoy The Library Book. But it helps, and if you don’t appreciate libraries before reading this book, you certainly will afterwards.
Peace (in the stacks),