The Library Book by Susan Orlean

What does a book mean to you?  For some, it is their best friend. For others it is a threat to their perceived power base.

Johannes Gutenberg was a skilled craftsman, a goldsmith, and, also an aspiring entrepreneur.  In 1438, he embarked on his revolutionary concept – a printing press.  Around 1450, Gutenberg’s Press produced a finished product.  It is thought to be the Ars grammatica by Aelius Donatus.

On the 26 April 1986, two catastrophic tragedies occurred.  These were the Chernobyl disaster and the fire at the Los Angeles Central Library.

“The Library Book” by Susan Orlean is a thought provoking read.  The main theme of the book is about the fire at the Los Angeles Central Library and the subsequent events after the fire.  The Central Library did not open their doors to the public for a further seven years.

“The Central Library fire … was a huge [fire] that burned for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2500 degrees … More than one million books were burned or damaged.

One of shorter chronicles – how books are the cultural DNA of societies, communities and families.  Burning books or destroying books, like the Mali rebels did when they torched the historic manuscripts at the Timbuktu Library, is demoralising act leaving one with a crack in one’s soul.  It is still a mystery as to who started the fire in the Central Library, so one does not know what this person intent was.

Investigators were called in.  They began to suspect arson.  Their attention was focussed on Harry Peak.  He was arrested but not formally charged with the crime.  Both parties filed civil suits against each other, with no outcome in either.  Harry Peak has passed away and case of arson remains unsolved.

Another chronicle, the author shares with the reader is her mother’s dementia, a tragic decline of an individual’s memory.  A touching sentence in the book is – “Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve catalogued and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived.”

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Sharing stories about our families, our adventures with grandchildren and friends are also fundamental to our culture.

This month is the Montagu Book Festival, 25-28 July. Look out for details of this event.

This book and “From Gutenberg to Google” by Tom Wheeler are available at The Montagu Bookshop.

Recommendation:       Praying Mantis


  • Five stars                     Aloe Vera plant
  • Four stars                    Praying Mantis
  • Three stars                  Dassie
  • Two stars                     Poacher
  • One star                       Tobacco leaf