Prepare to dive into the inner workings of a library

Prepare to dive into the inner workings of a library

The possibilities seem endless.

Row upon row of books awaits you, each representing a fact to learn, a crime to solve, a future to visit, a place to explore or a life to share. Your local library holds old tales and new stories but in “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean, it can hold a community together, too.

The fire alarm was known to be faulty at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). It was always going off for no reason; patrons knew it, as did staff. So when the alarm screamed again on the morning of April 28, 1986, most people there vacated the library with an air of unconcerned been-there-done-this.

Within minutes, it became obvious that this was no false alarm.

Because of how the library had been constructed decades prior, what started as a small fire in a small area soon became a conflagration. Boosted by architecture, the fire fed on itself until, mere hours later, millions of books, manuscripts, priceless documents, maps, collector’s items and operating equipment were lost. It was the largest library fire at that time in the United States.

Throughout its existence, the LAPL had seen its share of history within the city. It had become a beloved home for bookworms, a resource for the homeless and a place for learning. Recognizing what its loss could represent, Los Angelinos sprang into action, filmmakers made donations, citizens held fundraisers and institutions around the world showed their support. Alas, many of the materials were lost forever.

In the days after the fire, tips poured in and one of them led investigators to Harry Peak, a charming gay “people pleaser” who was also unreliable. Peak ultimately confessed to the crime of arson.

And then he unconfessed. In months to come, in fact, he changed his story as easily as he changed clothes, baffling authorities. Was Harry Peak a firebug? Or was he just a guy who craved attention and would stretch a story to get it?

Here’s why you’re going to fall in love with author Susan Orlean: in her quest for full knowledge on this subject, she decided to burn a book (gasp!), a task that gave her knife-sharp anguish that only a booklover can know. Indeed, much of this account will hurt your soul, if you’re someone who loves books.

But that’s not all you’ll find in “The Library Book.”

While crime solving itself is fascinating, Orlean takes her book to a most satisfying next step and reading it is like wearing a piece of jewelry: the story of the LAPL fire and its aftermath is the gold at the base, holding everything together — irresistible, but not quite enough. Orlean’s curiosity for and explanations of the inner workings of a large library are the jewels. They are what make this book sparkle.

Book lovers and library users should read it for its behind-the-scenes not-so-secrets. This book seems meant just for you who adore the written word, so clear your calendar and open “The Library Book.”

You know where to find a copy.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Life

Season' greetings
Send season’s greetings to seniors at Expressions Living Court

Take this opportunity to cheer up local seniors.

In addition to traveling through Enumclaw and Buckley, Santa will also be at the Enumclaw Expo Center's Hometown Holiday Parade Dec. 4 - 6, in place of being a part of the normal Enumclaw holiday parade. File photo
Santa to visit Buckley, Enumclaw neighborhoods

Make sure you know when Old Saint Nick is traveling through your area Dec. 7 - 12.

Dennis Tompkins, "The Evergreen Arborist"
Winter winds are on the way | The Evergreen Arborist

Make sure your trees are in good enough shape to weather the winds.

Hometown holiday poster
‘Hometown Holiday’ parade-in-place set for early December

You can cruise the event on Dec. 4 - 6, but make sure to buy your tickets quick — this event is expected to be packed.

Kanaskat-Palmer State Park is one of several local parks you can visit for free on Nov. 11 and 27. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks
State Parks announces last two ‘free days’ for 2020

Nov. 11 and 27 will be the last time you can visit a state park for free.

A new paved trail, provided by the city of Enumclaw, extends to a point just shy of the city limits. Here, a trail user and canine companion turn and head back toward Battersby Avenue. Photo by Kevin Hanson
Flat, smooth and short: two trails completed on Enumclaw’s north side

A quick tour of the new trail along Battersby Avenue.

Enumclaw City Councilman Beau Chevassus made a fundraiser of Enumclaw's Mail Express at the start of October. Screenshot
GoFundMe arranged for Mail Express

The fundraiser was set up by Enumclaw City Councilman Beau Chevassus.

New rules to giving blood means going maskless like people could back in January is a no-go. Image courtesy Bloodworks Northwest
Give blood to help out Enumclaw High School

Mention “Enumclaw leadership” at the door, and a $10 donation will be made to the school.

Image courtesy the Enumclaw Drama Club
EHS drama students offer remote version of “Frankenstein”

Sign up now to catch a performance on Oct. 29, 30, or 31.

Courtesy image
Local nursing homes offer webinar on senior depression

The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 29.

Enumclaw pumpkin carving master David Hauge will be one of the judges for the upcoming Halloween pumpkin carving contest (no pressure). Pictured is the pumpkin he carved in 2019. Photo by Ray Miller-Still
Pumpkin carving contest planned for Halloween night

The city of Enumclaw is hosting a pumpkin carving contest for all ages Oct. 31.