Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352
The Library Book is a 2016 non-fictional, historical novel written by American author Susan Orlean. It is a book about the 1986 catastrophic fire that damaged and destroyed 700,000 books in the Los Angeles Central Library. But, aside from covering the investigation and the process of finding out what exactly happened on that day, Orlean also writes about the library’s history and the history of the libraries in America in general. At the same time, she manages to write about her mother’s courageous fight with dementia, thus adding a personal and an emotional element to the story.
As the story progresses, Orlean gradually begins to reveal the most fitting theories about who might the wanted arsonist be, and she introduces the readers to a frustrated, wannabe actor by the name of Harry Peaks. However, many readers have stated that this is the second most interesting part of the novel. According to them, the first and probably most important element of The Library Book is the detailed reflection on the past, present, and future of American libraries. Orlean describes how the libraries responded to wars and various societal changes, gradually evolving into the structures that they are today.
She reminds us of their mission to educate and inform the community and to transform our world for the better. Moreover, she explains how the libraries (especially the LA Central library) are open and free to anyone and everyone, regardless of age or gender, and thus have become much more than just places where books can be kept; they are also shelters for the homeless, refugees for the immigrants, and meeting spots where people can expand their knowledge and grow their social circles. Thus, she writes a compassionate story about a saddened community coming together and raising money to save and salvage the remains of their library.
Even though Orlean received a lot of praise, both by readers and critics alike about her insightful and clever prose, she also received some criticism about her overly descriptive narrative and her tendency to shift the focus from one character or event to another in a rather inconsistent way.