Susan Orlean at BWML
The Library Book is Orlean's new true story about the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history...and a dazzling love letter to libraries.
Spend an evening with the award-winning journalist, New Yorker staff writer and author declared a “national treasure” by The Washington Post as she shares her new book about a literary catastrophe transformed into a contemplation of a beloved institution—our libraries.
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 false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, “Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.” The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?
In The Library Book, Orlean weaves together her life-long love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes-eccentric characters who run them. The New York Times bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief presents a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling story as only she can. With her signature wit, insight, compassion and talent for deep research, she investigates the legendary Los Angeles Public Library fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. To truly understand what happens behind the stacks, Orlean visits the different departments of the LAPL, encountering an engaging cast of employees and patrons and experiencing alongside them the victories and struggles they face in today’s climate. She also delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from a metropolitan charitable initiative to a cornerstone of national identity. She reflects on her childhood experiences in libraries; studies arson and the long history of library fires; attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and she re-examines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the library over 30 years ago. Along the way, she reveals how these buildings provide much more than just books—and that they are needed now more than ever.
Filled with heart, passion and unforgettable characters, The Library Book is classic Orlean, and an homage to a beloved institution that remains a vital part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country and culture.
This community talk is free.
About the Library Author Series
Bud Werner Memorial Library presents an ongoing program of author talks throughout the year. These are free community events held in Library Hall, where a diverse award-winning range of visiting authors speak about their literary works and their writing processes. Each talk is followed by a Q&A and an opportunity to have authors sign copies of their books.
Books will be available for sale and author signing courtesy of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.