Tag Archives: libraries

Briefly Noted: ‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean

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“A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most peculiar book was written with that kind of crazy courage–the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.” – Susan Orlean

Publisher’s Description

“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?”

Assessment

If you Google this fire, you will find many pictures that are sad to see because they show the mess fire, smoke, and water make of books. The images I saw are copyrighted, so I can’t show them here. Frankly, in reading Orlean’s book, I was surprised at the number of damaged books that were saved, many by a long process of removing the moisture from the sodden pages. In many of the older books that escaped the fire and water, the smell of smoke still lingers.

Main Los Angeles Library – Wikipedia Photo

You can also learn on the Internet that even though there was an arson suspect who couldn’t (or didn’t want to) keep his own alibi straight, there was never enough evidence for an indictment. While the book delves into the stories of that suspect, it’s difficult to read The Library Book with this lingering lack of closure about an unsolved crime. If this book were fiction, let’s say a whodunnit, the author would be criticized for the failure of the characters to solve the crime and bring the perpetrator to justice. The lack of closure creates within this book a lack of focus. That is, the book wanders a bit.

Nonetheless, the book is well written and demonstrates Orlean’s long-time and well-known talents for interviewing people and finding out what makes them tick. I worked in the college libraries at the universities I attended, so I share Orlean’s love of the library and, as such, see this book as not only the history of an important U.S. library but as a love letter to libraries and those who manage them.

Oddly, the fire–and the public’s support of the library after the fire, and seven years later when the main library reopened–might have saved the historic building. The building had for years been discussed as out of date and too small, along with having inadequate fire repression methods. So, a new wing was built and the old building remains, more vibrant and busy than before. If you love libraries, and especially if you have worked in libraries, you will probably enjoy this book. I did.

A Personal Note

I cannot bring myself to feel that, as an author, I am brave in any way for writing novels I hope people will read. More likely, I am foolish, for such a small percentage of books, including those from major publishers ever succeed in finding enough readers to support the publisher’s and author’s investment. Nonetheless, writing is typical of me, just one more example of my impractical life’s focus.

I never expect Hollywood or the New York Times to call and request either a film option or an interview. I have always expected more of my personal friends and online friends to read the books, but to the extent, they read novels at all, they choose the bestsellers from major publishers as a sure thing. Novels are different than other businesses in which community support often favors the local store rather than the chain. Buy local! But that seldom applies to books. The nursery, pharmacy, tire store, restaurant, and the grocery store expect my support, but they don’t buy my books. That’s a sad thing, I think, but when I read a book like this one, I have faith and hope that somebody, somewhere will ultimately find the stories I have to tell.

Susan Orlean has given us all a very memorable story and I appreciate it.

Malcolm

 

 

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Thank you to my 26,250 visitors

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83grandThis blog has been staggering along for awhile like a sailor trying to find his way back to the ship after a night on the town in a foreign port. (Been there, done that.)

When I started Malcolm’s Round Table, I was thinking of King Arthur (indirectly in my family tree) and the Knights of the Round Table. Not that I would admit that I was looking for the Holy Grail. I had no idea what I was going to say or that I’d end up saying it for some 1,050 posts about everything from writing to Glacier National Park, to the USS Ranger to the Florida locations for some of my recent stories.

Somehow along the road, 26,250 of you stopped by for some 83,252 visits. And, according to the WordPress gurus, the busiest time has been Thursday at 2 p.m. This tells me you guys are logging on at work after drinking your lunch.

Thursday2pm

Seriously, were you trying to stay awake or were you looking for the Holy Grail? (And, were you successful in either quest?) Truth be told, I bring to this blog and to most of my fiction the premise that every one of us is on a hero’s journey in search of that moment and/or that insight that transforms us into the individual we were destined to become if we allowed it to happen.

In my novel The Sun Singer, I explore the hero’s journey from a masculine perspective. In Sarabande, I look at the journey from a feminine perspective. A recent article on Brain Pickings called “If Librarians Were Honest” caught my attention because it’s based on the premise that “If librarians were honest, they would say, No one spends time here without being changed…”

Vision of the Holy Grail at the Round Table.

Vision of the Holy Grail at the Round Table.

Hero’s and Heroine’s journeys change us, often in spectacular ways under dangerous circumstances. Libraries can also change us. Potentially, every book, article, and post we read will change us a little or a lot. We never quite know at the beginning of a journey or a book, just who we will be at the end of it.

So, it’s a glorious risk, right?

Perhaps I should have posted this yesterday on my birthday because each of your visits is a gift. It’s a gift of your time, just as reading The Sun Singer, Sarabande, and Conjure Woman’s Cat is a gift of your time. Perhaps you felt different when you finished some of the posts and some of my stories.

Or, perhaps you were changed in imperceptible ways. If you’re also a writer, you will know that you not only change as you read but also as you write. I’m slightly different than I was when I wrote, “This blog has been staggering along for awhile like a sailor trying to find his way back to the ship after a nigh on the town” at the beginning of this post.

We don’t often notice the smallest changes in ourselves because movies and books lead us to believe that when we find the Holy Grail, we’ll find it all at once rather than little by little. Perhaps we need a magic mirror that shows us, not how we’ve aged over time, but how we’ve changed.

If we did, I think we’d not only be surprised by the results, but we’d all feel a lot better about ourselves. At any rate, that’s why I write and that’s why I’m happy that 26,250 of you have stopped by to read.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the 1950s-era novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat” about a conjure woman who fights back against the KKK with folk magic.

Visit my website to learn more.