The Library Book

I waited quite a while to get The Library Book from my local library and it was completely worth the wait. The way in which Susan Orlean weaves together the history of the Los Angeles library, the fire that happened in 1986, the story of trying to figure out who did it, and the way in which libraries function in our culture was so well done. I’m a huge fan of libraries and have talked about them on this site before, I came back to the library as an adult and there is so much wonderful stuff happening in libraries.

Orlean’s history of the LA Central Library, the various people who ran the library, and how the library came to be what it is today is so great. I loved learning about the women who ran the library in the late 1800s and early 1900s, of how the library became a central part of LA right from the get go, and more importantly, how much libraries do today for people. The 1986 fire was the reason that Orlean started the writing the book, but the book is about so much more than just that fire. She weaves the story of the fire in and out of the history of the library and a look at what the library is today.

It’s still quite early in 2019, but this book is in the running for my favorite book of the year right now, I loved it and had a hard time putting it down.

My highlights below are from the kindle version I borrowed from my local libarary.

…[T]he more time I spent at Central, the more I realized that a library is an intricate machine, a contraption of whirring gears. (p 60)

People think that libraries are quiet, but they really aren’t. They rumble with voices and footsteps and a whole orchestral range of book-related noises—the snap of covers clapping shut; the breathy whisk of pages fanning open; the distinctive thunk of one book being stacked on another; the grumble of book carts in the corridors. (p 60)

The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace. The commitment to inclusion is so powerful that many decisions about the library hinge on whether or not a particular choice would cause a subset of the public to feel uninvited. (p 67)

I found myself wondering whether a shared memory can exist if one of the people sharing it no longer remembers it. (p 92)

Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory. (p 94)

Destroying a library is a kind of terrorism. People think of libraries as the safest and most open places in society. Setting them on fire is like announcing that nothing, and nowhere, is safe. (p 102)

…[O]ne more piece of the bigger puzzle the library is always seeking to assemble—the looping, unending story of who we are. (p 164)

…[L]ibrarians should “read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a cat sleeps or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training, but because they’d rather do it than anything else in the world.” (p 198)

The communal nature of a library is the very essence of the library, in the shared desks and shared books and shared restrooms. (p 244)

…[L]iked the idea that the library is more expansive and grand than one single mind, and that it requires many people together to form a complete index of its bounty. (p 266)

Some of them are also discovering that libraries are society’s original coworking spaces and have the distinct advantage of being free. (p 289)

A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. (p 309)