mini-review · stuff I read

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
On the morning of April 28, 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 fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

I remember reading about the Los Angeles Central Library fire in other books about libraries, chiefly Patience and Fortitude. The intriguing thing about the fire is that is was never solved – not in ignition and not in culprit, if indeed the fire was deliberately set. So I was really interested in Susan Orlean’s new book, titled The Library Book.

Now, The Library Book is three things:

  1. A reminiscence about books and reading and libraries and how Orlean had been a heavy library user as a child but grew out of it as an adult.
  2. A history of the development of the Los Angeles Central Library as an institution and what the library offers the Los Angeles area in the twenty-first century
  3. An account of the 1986 fire that gutted the Central Library and of the decidedly odd man suspected of setting the fire

Although there are some sections of the book that don’t flow together as well as they might due to the three different themes running through the book, I found Orlean’s work to be fun. The Library Book is a very readable and warm (haha) book from one library lovers to another. Orlean could have written a completely separate book about Harry Peak, the man arrested for setting the fire (never charged due to lack of evidence of arson, or even a conclusive ignition point for the fire – the building was so in need of modernization the fire could have started spontaneously). Peak is both a larger-than-life and an enigmatic character and as such is completely fascinating.

As a little bonus for library nerds, each chapter is headed by titles of several books and their associated call numbers (nerd catnip) pertaining to the subject of the chapter.

The Library Book is out October 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

The Great American Read: The Book of Books: Explore America’s 100 Best-Loved Novels

38255077Summary from Goodreads:
A blockbuster illustrated book that captures what Americans love to read, The Great American Read: The Book of Books is the gorgeously-produced companion book to PBS’s ambitious summer 2018 series.
What are America’s best-loved novels? PBS will launch The Great American Read series with a 2-hour special in May 2018 revealing America’s 100 best-loved novels, determined by a rigorous national survey. Subsequent episodes will air in September and October. Celebrities and everyday Americans will champion their favorite novel and in the finale in late October, America’s #1 best-loved novel will be revealed.
The Great American Read: The Book of Books will present all 100 novels with fascinating information about each book, author profiles, a snapshot of the novel’s social relevance, film or television adaptations, other books and writings by the author, and little-known facts. Also included are themed articles about banned books, the most influential book illustrators, reading recommendations, the best first-lines in literature, and more.
Beautifully designed with rare images of the original manuscripts, first-edition covers, rejection letters, and other ephemera, The Great American Read: The Book of Books is a must-have book for all booklovers.

I really enjoyed the kickoff episode for PBS’s Great American Read so I picked up the companion book a few weeks ago. This is a very pretty book about books (heyo, genre kryptonite) so definite four solid stars as a lovely object about books.

However, there is some unbelievably lazy-arsed copy-editing where captions are laid out wrong and some seriously convoluted sentences appear. Black Dog & Leventhal editor, I’m giving you the hairy eyeball on this one.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

37457057Summary from Goodreads:
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover’s paradise? Well, almost … In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

I’ve had my eye out for Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller ever since it pubbed in the U.K. – thanks Melville House for bringing it stateside.

I loved reading Bythell’s record of a year in his life as a bookseller in Wigtown in lowland Scotland. It’s more than just a daily record of the dumb customers or the problems Amazon/the Internet has brought to the business. It’s about being a part of a community, the history of the area, and also the melancholy of going out to value and/or buy the library of a person who has died or needs to move out of their home. That said, I massively enjoyed the snark Bythell doles out on the page (also, his shop assistant Nicky is goofballs in the most amazing way). We meet his American girlfriend Anna who commutes between Wigtown and London, his ever-enlarging cat Captain, the friend who organizes the book festival yet leaves his shoes (and assorted mess) all over Bythell’s flat in the most annoying way, and go fishing with Bythell and his dad. If you’re a book-lover, you have to read this.

(I hand-sold this to a customer as “Black Books in Scotland but mostly sober and he actually sells books.” Haha.)

The Diary of a Bookseller is out now.

Dear FTC: I got access to the digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss but I’ll definitely be buying a copy.

#BookishBloggersUnite

#BookishBloggersUnite – It me.

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#BookishBloggersUnite is a weekly hashtag that a group of bookish friends participate in to talk about books. Posts will go up on Friday (or whichever time works best for our time zone!). This first post is about introducing who we all are. Katy is hosting our first week.

Who/What got you into reading?

My parents. It’s all their fault, hahahaha. Not only did they read to me, a lot, as a small child they modeled reading and we had tons of books in the house on all sorts of subjects. I was also encouraged to entertain myself with a book or to bring a book and “read” to my mom while she was busy with my baby brother long before I could read on my own. So books have always been part of my life.

What are your favorite genres?

Well…I definitely lean more “literary” in my fiction as well as classic literature but I also really enjoy breaking up my serious reading with romance and comics.

What are your least favorite genres?

Religion, politics, business, and Westerns.

If you had to choose between bringing a mediocre book series or one great standalone book to a deserted island, which would you pick?

One great standalone I can read over and over again. This island has sticks and sand, right? If I get bored I’ll just write my own.

How do you organize your bookshelves? Do you even have any organizational system?

Mostly by imprint/publisher, because I love how the colophons line up on the shelf, and then sort of by subject. So all my Penguin Black Spines are together, my Deluxe Classics are together, my Vintage International are together, BN Classics, Best American, etc. Unless it’s a Penguin Drop Caps or New York Review of Books edition, those are by Roy G. Biv, and I keep most of my signed books together in one bookshelf.

What’s the next book on your TBR that you’re excited about?

Ummm…..All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva

Have you ever gone to any book signings? Which was your favorite?

Lots of signings. I think my favorites were Jasper Fforde, Celeste Ng, and Alexander Chee (three times, once at BRL and two with amazing interviews conducted by Garth Greenwell). And a signing for my friend Valerie, because having an actual award-winning poet friend is pretty awesome (shameless plug for Valerie’s poetry because it is really, really good, go read some).

Hardcovers or Paperbacks or eBooks or Audiobooks?

Both. But nevermind the bread please. (Pooh has a response for everything.)

I read across all formats. I do default to paper formats if it’s a book that I’m going to have a conversation with and scribble all over (like the new translation of The Odyssey from Emily Wilson).  I will say that I loathe mass markets and avoid them if at all possible – the consequence is that almost all my romance and other genre reading, if no other paper format is available that I might like, is done as ebooks. Light nonfiction is often done as audiobooks borrowed from the library Overdrive site. A lot of times I read the digital galley ahead of publication because #booksellerlyfe.

What is your favorite book to recommend that isn’t a common recommendation to new readers?

What We See When We Read by Daniel Mendelsund – an interesting meditation from a graphic designer on how our brains fill in detail while we read.

What does the ideal reading day for you look like?

Coffee. Couch. Blanket. Kitteh snuggles. My Reading playlist on the stereo. (There’s probably a nap in there somewhere.)

What makes you DNF a book?

It has to really make me feel like I’m wasting my reading time (like Tom Hanks’s book – y’all, I have some screen shots of some really eye-wateringly bad writing), since I’m usually pretty good at avoiding crap books in the first place. Otherwise, if I start a book, and it’s not really doing it for me, I’ll put it in “hibernation” – and then years later I’ll finally decide to DNF it.

What book are you most excited about in 2018?

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, Celestial Bodies by Laura Jacobs, and Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James.

Which series/book to you revisit for self care/nostalgia?

Winnie-the-Pooh is my “can’t function, can only lay in a ball” self-care read. I also revisit Jane Austen’s novels, Little Women, and the Thursday Next series (especially on audio).

IMG_3696Do you have a bookish pet?

This is my Chaucer-kitteh. Named not quite for the actual author of The Canterbury Tales, but mostly because I read a romance novel in high school (The Wedding by Elizabeth Bevarly) in which a secondary character, who was a professor of Middle English, had a horrible, nasty, beastly tabby cat named Chaucer. I wasn’t sure about the adjectives, but I thought a tabby cat named Chaucer would be lovely. Years later, I acquired one.

Until last Saturday, I had a Dante-kitteh, too. We miss him a lot.

Do you enjoy readathons? If so, which ones can people find you participating in?

An excuse to read as much I as I want all weekend? Yes, please! I usually participate in Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon and the 24-in-48 Readathon.

What is one part of bookish life you enjoy that isn’t reading?

The swag. We are living in an era of excellent t-shirts, pins, buttons, cross-stitch, knitting patterns, stickers, jewelry, and so on for book-loving people. Bookish podcasts are a huge part of my life, too. (Woo, all the Book Riot podcasts.)

Is there a genre you wished you read more of?

Philosophy. I really wish my eyeballs wouldn’t run screaming from my head when I tried to read the actual text instead of a precis/summary.

What is your favorite book cover of all time?

This is hard, because there are SO MANY absolutely beautiful book covers roaming around on my shelves. I will say that Penguin’s graphic design department is hitting it out of the park with the Deluxe Classics, Black Spines, Drop Caps, and Clothbound series. I think the Henry Holt anniversary re-jacketing of the Lloyd Alexander Prydain Chronicles series is one of my favorite redesigns (The Book of Three).

And that’s it! Visit Katy’s site or follow the tags to see who else is participating.

IMG_3100Bonus picture of the Chaucer-kitteh, because I found it while deciding which picture to use above and I couldn’t resist. He is sound asleep here.