I am not sure how I came across this book, but the story peaked my interest. What I read was a lot more than I had imagined. If you are at all interested in libraries, this book will enlighten and edify you, and is highly recommended. Don't get me wrong, this is not a story about libraries, it is the story about the largest fire to a library in the U.S. and the investigation of that fire, suspected to arson.
Susan Orlean conducts a in-depth and thorough review of the fire, the investigation, the suspect, and all the aspects surrounding the fire. What really made it interesting, was hearing the first hand accounts of the library staff. These were dedicated librarians whose livelihood and their profession were turned upside down because of the fire. Hearing their personal reflections and feelings added so much depth and interest to the fire. Everyday, we hear about some type of tragic incident, but only the facts of that incident. Hearing the first hand accounts, before, during, and after the fire of these librarians, added so much humanity to what would otherwise just be another tragic incident.
Interwoven between the account of the fire, the investigation, and the rebuilding of the library, are mostly accounts of how the "Central Library" in downtown Los Angeles, came into being, how it grew, the head librarians were over the years, the goals, ambitions, projects, etc., of the library (as well as other libraries) were and how they implemented them, as well as every other facet of any library system, is presented in between the main story.
This interweaving of the history of the Central Library and operations of the library, were quite interesting, but at times a bit tiresome and distracting. I felt at times that you suddenly jumped tracks at critical points of the real story to jump back in time about its past and development, only to circle around again, and resume the investigation.
I will have to say that Susan Orlean did a wonderful job of blending the history as well as the investigation into one story line, but as stated above, the history was at times: distracting.
The depth of her research was noticeable, as well as her personal dedication, which rings out during the course of the whole story. Her admiration and respect for libraries and librarians cries out loud and clear, and I did like her optimism for the future of libraries.
I have deep respect for libraries, what they bring to communities, and firmly believe that every community, no matter how large or small should have a library, it is the center of a life long learning as well as path to stories and imaginary fantasies for all to experience and grow. Because of this respect, I will have to say, that I was very sorrowful deep inside as I read about the day the fire nearly burned down the library and over 400,000 books and other materials disappeared forever. That tragedy was so well described, it could not do anything but grab you as to the enormous loss that was suffered that day. But it was also wonderful to learn about and see people galvanize and engage in rebuilding the library and bringing that desire to a wondrous conclusion.
You can't help to enjoy this book, respect the research and dedication of Susan Orlean, and the world of books and libraries. This book is a capsule of all of that and an enjoyable, edifying, and touching read.