The Friends of the Libraries, in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library, hosted award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author Susan Orlean at the George Peabody Library on Tuesday. Orlean discussed her new book, The Library Book, which focuses on the historic fire of the Los Angeles Library in 1986.
Orleans said that she found the inspiration for The Library Book after moving to Los Angeles. There she spoke to the Friends of the Los Angeles Library, who then invited her to their central branch in the downtown area for a tour. The tour guide pointed out that there was a smell of smoke on some of the books from a fire that occurred in 1986 and had shut down the library for seven years.
“I went home that night and knew I was writing the book. The combination with having this emotional yearning to learn about libraries coupled with this amazing story about the fire made me feel like it had to be told,” Orlean said.
Orlean said that the Los Angeles Library fire was a suspected case of arson, and it turned out to be the largest library fire in U.S. history. Although the building was designed to be fireproof, it burned for seven and a half hours.
“There is nothing that is quite disturbing as the burning of books,” Orlean said. “Burning a library is a statement of terrorism.”
While writing The Library Book, Orlean said that she burned a book to see what the experience was like. She explained that burning the book was painful for her, as she believes books are extensions of our soul and minds.
Orlean stated that she was especially motivated to finish her book after her mother was diagnosed with dementia. She said that she wanted to preserve memories, even if her mother was losing them. She further stated that she especially cherished memories of travelling with her mother to the library as a child.
Graduate student Denise Longo-Schoeberlein remarked that she was fascinated by the topics Orlean discussed.
“Orlean has such an amazing way with sentences in her article delivery,” she said. “She just weaves her research beautifully but also tells an incredible life story.”
Baltimore resident Ricky Ruzin also stated that he had been interested in Orlean since he read one of her other books in college. He said that her new publication was unique because it read more like fiction even though it fell under the nonfiction genre.
“I like the way she writes to you like a friend and as if she knows you. Her writing reads more as a story than an analytical paper,” Ruzin said.
Director of Marketing and Communications for Enoch Pratt Free Library Meghan McCorkell helped organize the event. She decided to invite Orlean to speak because The Library Book captured the importance of libraries to a community.
“The people here at Sheridan Libraries, especially at the Peabody Library, share an affinity with us,” McCorkell said. “It was really a perfect marriage for all of us to come together to celebrate what libraries do and what they mean to the community.”
McCorkell added that she wanted the event to bring together members of the community.
“Libraries are more than just a place to get books; they’re community hubs. They provide vital services across cities, across the entire country and across the entire world,” she said.