This book came into my sight line during voting for the Goodreads “best of 2018” awards and I bookmarked it to read, jumped in the queue at my local library and promptly forgot all about it. When it became available it was a delightful companion to Bird Box (in that, it was not horrifying) and I enjoyed this glimpse into the world of the library, that is so very dear to my own heart.
Reminiscent of Devil in the White City in narrative style, but like, waaaay less murdery, Orlean jumps from present to past, showing us the thriving Los Angeles Public Library branch today, but also the circumstances of the mysterious library that ravaged it in 1986. She also goes even further back to the historical roots of the library, telling the tale of the people as well as the place. Interwoven we learn the role that public libraries have played in her own life, and her affection and reverence for libraries shines through.
The mystery at the core of the story, the origin of the devastating fire is interesting, but it is but one data point on the journey of the LA public library, a fixed point in history that Orlean uses to anchor her tale. Thoroughly detailed, we get insight not just into this public library, but into public libraries in America and their placeholder as a bastion of knowledge and discovery, not to mention a safe haven for those with no place else to go. For anyone who has a fondness for public libraries and the vital role they play, this is a must read.