The author of The Orchid Thief reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history (the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library blaze) and delivers a love letter to a beloved institution—our libraries.
Orlean’s work in general has that elusive quality to it: exquisitely written, consistently entertaining and irreducible to anything so obvious and pedestrian as a theme ... a loving tribute not just to a place or an institution but to an idea ... Her depiction of the Central Library fire on April 29, 1986, is so rich with specifics that it’s like a blast of heat erupting from the page ... What makes The Library Book so enjoyable is the sense of discovery that propels it, the buoyancy when Orlean is surprised or moved by what she finds.
...a wide-ranging, deeply personal and terrifically engaging investigation of humanity’s bulwark against oblivion: the library ... As a narrator, Orlean moves like fire herself, with a pyrotechnic style that smolders for a time over some ancient bibliographic tragedy, leaps to the latest technique in book restoration and then illuminates the story of a wildly eccentric librarian ... With a great eye for telling and quirky detail, she presents a vast catalogue of remarkable characters ... If the spine of The Library Book seems strained to contain so much diverse material, that variety is also what makes this such a constant pleasure to read ... You can’t help but finish The Library Book and feel grateful that these marvelous places belong to us all.
Bibliophiles will feel deeply understood from the start, when Orlean talks about bringing her young son to a branch library in Los Angeles, just as her own mother had taken her to one in the Cleveland suburbs ... As Orlean delves into Central Library’s history, she re-animates the lively characters who once dominated the scene ... Unexpectedly engaging sections are tied to architects and landscaping and budgets, plus the overwhelming modern challenges of homelessness and mental illness ... In other hands the book would have been a notebook dump, packed with random facts that weren’t germane but felt too hard-won or remarkable to omit. Orlean’s lapidary skills include both unearthing the data and carving a storyline out of the sprawl, piling up such copious and relevant details that I wondered how many mountains of research she discarded for each page of jewels ... in telling the story of this one library, Orlean reminds readers of the spirit of them all, their mission to welcome and equalize and inform, the wonderful depths and potential that they—and maybe all of us, as well—contain.