This post is a bonus insert into my series on hospitality. It is also the first of this year’s book reviews. Check back next week for a post about the hospitality I experienced as I travelled around the world.
I like to read and I always find myself texting and chatting up people about what I have just read and why I think they might like it. Honestly, being a librarian seems like sort of a dream. I’ve got this space here on the blog and I thought, why not profile and share some of the more meaningful reads I have throughout this year?
To kick us off I found one that feels the most appropriate: The Library Book by Susan Orleans. This book is a book lovers dream. I’m not a big history buff…it’s hard for me to connect with abstract facts and whatnot, but if you place facts into a story form, I’m a sucker for it.
Orleans is a masterful researcher and writer. The Library Book traces the devastating Los Angeles library fire of 1986, which is still shrouded in mystery. She weaves fascinating stories about patrons, guests, and librarians while investigating the man accused of setting the fire. It was the mystery that first drew me to the book. The chapter where she describes the library burning is heart wrenching. The librarians reported grief and trauma at their loss. I was in tears.
I came for the intrigue, but stayed for the librarians.
I love Orleans because she is a writer’s writer. The language she employs of rich verbs and candid observation are enthralling.
I was hooked from the first page.
Can we talk about the title for a second? I was standing at my bathroom sink and looking down at the cover the other day and wondering when the “book” at the center of this story would show up. Then I realized! This IS the library book! This is a book all about libraries. A library book! I love a good word play.
I love the way Orleans starts each chapter…rather than title each chapter she lists a seemingly random smattering of book titles and authors (like a bibliography entry). It took me a few chapters into reading to realize that I could start each chapter with a fun “what do these all have in common” and guess the chapter’s theme.
Orleans spent years researching and writing this book. That is so encouraging to me—good books take time, and there are readers out there who appreciate the time and are grateful when a book is finally ready and released into the world.
I wrote a bit about why I love libraries over here, but this book renewed my love. The library is such a beautiful public space where all are welcome. Much of The Library Book is devoted to exploring the innovative ways librarians seek to carve out hospitable spaces for everyone to enjoy. Are there challenges that come with this? Absolutely. Are there countless librarians and patrons around the country working every day to offer dignity and space to people who need a place to rest and dream? Absolutely. It’s inspiring.
Do you love libraries and hospitality, too? Then maybe check out one of my favorite This American Life episodes here. This podcast episode, The Room of Requirement—specifically the first and third acts—will be the anchor for a post I will publish soon exploring hospitality in public places.