Friday, November 2, 2018

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I am here to offer you firsthand proof that the library is filled with magical happenings.

On Monday night I attended an author event at the Louisville Free Public Library. I was there to hear Susan Orlean talk about her latest non-fiction offering, The Library Book. She gave a splendid presentation, reading a few selections from the book, answering questions from the audience, and generally just charming us all with her relaxed conversation and humor.

The Library Book begins with the fire of the Los Angeles Library in 1986. A fire intentionally set that destroyed 400,000 books and damaged another 700,000. (I know. I shudder to think of the loss.) It is the largest library fire in U.S. history. The downtown building, erected in the 1926, was closed for seven years while renovation and reconstruction took place. 

This event prompted Ms. Orlean, many years later, to write this book. She is a big fan of libraries and in the book recalls her many trips as a child with her mother to their local library in Akron, Ohio. She loved that she was given free rein to roam the library, and as she said, "leave with books I hadn't paid for."

She also writes about the history of libraries in general and the day-to-day life of the institutions.

During the Q&A she spoke of her need for a private work space and of her writing process. She sorts her handwritten research notes onto 5"x 8" index cards (for this book she had 700 of them), and once she begins, aims to write 1000 words a day, revising and editing as she goes along.

After her talk, I made my way to the lobby to purchase this book and have her autograph it. I definitely felt a connection. After all, my mother was head librarian of a large branch library here in Louisville for many years; I had visited the Los Angeles Public Library (not many years before the fire) and remember the murals in its rotunda depicting the history of California; and my first job was as a page at our small neighborhood library earning 50 cents an hour. 

I had to have this book.

I stood in line, money in hand and ready to buy. But, when I got to the head of the line I was told that all the books were gone. 

Oh, dear.

I turned and looked at the folks standing in the autograph line and saw a gentleman holding a stack of seven or eight books in his arms. In my most charming manner, I approached him and said with a smile, "They are out of books. Would you consider arm wrestling me for one of yours?"

Well, dear Reader, the man did not even hesitate, but immediately handed me a book and said, "Merry Christmas!"

I was stunned. I protested that I would willingly pay him for it, but he declined asking me to make a donation to The Library Foundation instead.  I gladly made a gift in memory of my mother. 

I was last in line to have Ms. Orlean sign my newly acquired copy. We chatted a bit about libraries, my mother, books, and the generosity of the man in line.

So there you have it. Magical happenings in the library. Not only do I have The Library Book full of stories about libraries, but I also have my own story of how I came to own The Library Book

Author Susan Orlean
The Library Book

(My apologies for the terrible photo. 
The lighting in the auditorium was awful 
and my camera never fails to blur at inopportune moments.)


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Lark. I thought it was a story worth telling. The kindness of strangers!

  2. What a great experience. It just proves that book and library lovers are the BEST!

    1. Yes, we are, aren't we! I am reading the book now and it is terrific! She is a wonderful writer.