Blanche’s Book Club: ‘The Library Book’.

Hey, hey! It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to get back into the groove of things after my vacation (it was forever ago and my suitcase is empty, but still not put away).

Just a few days ago did I finally finish all of my laundry and put it away, and I finally ventured back to the library! I didn’t know it, but I didn’t have ANY books on my reserve list so I wasn’t getting any texts reminding me to come pick up books… obviously, I fixed that right away and already have a lil stack on my coffee table waiting to be read.

But, I’m really excited to share the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club — it’s “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean. Here is the book’s description from Simon & Schuster:

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

I know that’s the longest description ever… but there was SO much depth to this book — much more than I expected. It’s the first book I’ve read from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and I’m glad it got exposure, because it’s beautifully written.

Naturally, I wrote down several quotes from the book to share:

There was a sense of stage business — that churn of activity you can’t hear or see but you feel at a theater in the instant before the curtain rises — of people finding their places and things being set right, before the burst of action begins.

They formed a human chain, passing the book’s hand over hand from one person to the next, through the smoky building and out the door. It was as if, in this urgent moment, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created, for that short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.

The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten, but that we are all doomed to being forgotten — that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss; make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed.

This book made me think back to visiting the library as a child; perhaps that’s why I love it so much today. But it also made me realize how vital libraries are to their communities and I’m really thankful there are so many libraries in Austin.

This is a must-read if you’re a book lover and/or a library goer. It’s got a lil touch of true crime in there, too.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea” by Jonathan Franklin.

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