On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, “Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.”
The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?
In her new book, THE LIBRARY BOOK (Simon&Schuster), Susan Orlean weaves her love of libraries with their history. At a time, when many communities face the end of financial support for local libraries, Orlean delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world. In her investigation, she reveals that local libraries are more than buildings with books and how they are needed now more than ever.
Susan was featured in the New York Times Book Review Sunday and I found her “By the Book” Q &A Fascinating. Here’s a sample.
“What moves you most in a work of literature?
“I’m a sucker for a sad book. As wrenching and messy as it is to have a big cry while reading, I consider it one of life’s great pleasures. I’m partial to beautiful, heartbreaking sentences about loss and about the ultimate futility of the human condition. I’m particularly gutted by the idea of missed connections and doomed families.”
How do you read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or simultaneously? Morning or night?
“One book at a time, at night, usually on my Kindle – I love physical books, but as someone who travels a lot, I’m grateful to have my entire library with me at all times.””
ABOUT SUSAN, courtesy of http://www.susanorlean.com
What can I tell you? I am the product of a happy and relatively uneventful childhood in Cleveland, Ohio (back when the Indians were still a lousy team, and before they became a really good team and then again became a somewhat lousy team, although I have hope again…) This was followed by a happy and relatively squandered college career at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (back when Ann Arbor hosted a Hash Bash every spring). I studied literature and history and always dreamed of being a writer, but had no idea of how you went about being a writer – or at least the kind of writer I wanted to be: someone who wrote long stories about interesting things, rather than news stories about short-lived events. There is no guidebook to becoming that kind of writer, so I assumed I’d end up doing something practical like going to law school, much as the thought of it made me cringe. After college, I moved to Portland, Oregon (back when Portland was cappucino-free) to kill some time before the inevitable trek to law school – and amazingly enough I lucked into a writing job at a tiny now-defunct monthly magazine. That led to a job at an alternative newsweekly in Portland where I wrote music reviews and feature pieces. While I was in Portland, Mt. St. Helens erupted; I started writing for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice; I learned to cross-country ski; I failed to learn how to cook.
Yes, he is the most handsome dog in the world. His name is Cooper and he’s a three-year old Welsh Springer Spaniel. I got him from a breeder near Port Chester, New York – check out her website at welshspringers.com and be forewarned that she has very annoying music playing in the background. Still, she breeds a heck of a dog. Cooper is now about forty-nine pounds; enjoys swimming, eating plastic, sitting on top of the newspaper when I’m reading it, and chicken.
I moved to Boston in 1982 (back before they built the Ted Williams Tunnel and long before the Red Sox reversed the curse). I wrote for the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Globe, and started work on my first book Saturday Night. Four years later I moved to New York. After moving to New York, I learned how to snowboard; wrote The Orchid Thief; became a staff writer at The New Yorker; got married; got a Welsh Springer Spaniel; learned how to order take-out food. These days I do some lecturing and some teaching, but most of the time I’m writing pieces for The New Yorker and occasionally for other magazines, and working on books. My latest project, a book about the Los Angeles Public Library and the arson fire there in 1986, will be published in October, 2018, by Simon and Schuster. Right now, I split my time between Los Angeles and the Hudson Valley of New York, with my husband, my son, and a small menagerie of animals.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster and BookExpo, we have one signed copy to giveaway. Just tell us which of Susan’s numerous books, is your favorite. We’ll announce a winner soon. Good luck.
GIVEAWAY USA only please.