Susan Orlean has found a perfect shelter from our stormy times, said in BookPage. For her latest book, the best-selling author of The Orchid Thief wanted to spend a year inside a library, but she knew a quiet insider’s tour wasn’t much of a concept. “It had a little bit of a saggybaggy feel,” she says. Fortunately, Los Angeles’ central public library turned out to be a more quietly thrilling place than she’d expected. On an introductory walk-around, she was surprised when her guide stopped to open a book, inhaled deeply, and declared he could still smell smoke. The library, Orlean soon learned, had in 1986 been engulfed by a fire of mysterious origin that destroyed or damaged a million-plus books. “I just about fell off my chair,” she says.
In The Library Book, Orlean uses the suspected arson to awaken readers to how important libraries are, said
in American Libraries. “I’d like to remind people of how glorious it is to say we are devoting ourselves to make these spaces that are purely committed to saving and circulating stories,” Orlean says. “In many ways, it’s the highest expression of what society is.” Her method involves weaving surprising details about library operations with a suspenseful whodunit that culminates in a 2,000-degree fire. And the writing got her thinking about book burning and how it actually works. To find out, one day she grabbed a paperback copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and touched a flame to it out in her yard. Books, she reports, catch fire “like little bombs.” She was stunned: “It just seemed like it grabbed the flames and went boom.”