“In the library, time is dammed up – not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.”
I just finished reading Susan Orlean’s latest nonfiction, The Library Book, which got me reminiscing about the magical childhood hours I spent at the Carl Sandburg Library. I can still see the famous poet’s bronze statue staring down at me each time I approached the circulation desk. I remember the conspiratorial smile the librarian gave me when I checked out my first book from the Adult Section: How to Increase Your Intelligence in 30 Days. ( Yes, even back then, little Evelyn was on the path to self-improvement.)
The Library Book (Simon & Schuster 2018) is an ode to libraries past and present. It is a thoroughly researched and captivating story of the catastrophic fire that engulfed the Los Angeles Library on April 28, 1986. Orlean’s vivid description, along with eye-witness accounts, bring this devastating day and its aftermath to life.
“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned.”
Ordinarily, I don’t like books about fires, but The Library Book contains so much more. In trying to decipher the mystery of the library (arson is suspected), Orlean takes us on a journey of fascinating real-life characters, political intrigue, romance, library architecture, book love, and the evolution of the library itself going back to the 1800’s.
“A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone.”
Sprinkled into this rich story are Orlean’s own fond childhood reminiscences of visiting the library with her mother who now has dementia.
I highly recommend the Library Book to library lovers and bibliophiles who also enjoy history and true crime mysteries.
Growing up, the library was my oasis. It still is. When I find myself in new areas, I often look for the local library. From the sparkling modern to the creaking historical—I love them all.
Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Johnson Public Library, Johnson Vermont.
Only library in town. Tiny but cozy, with a sunny reading nook. Friendly staff. Great poetry collection. Near the Vermont Studio Center artist residence.
“In times of trouble, libraries are sanctuaries.”
2. Harold Washington Library, Chicago
A huge library with stunning architecture. A variety of interesting artwork on each of the 11 floors. Beautiful roof top garden atrium. You can easily spend a day here.
“The library is a whispering post. You don`t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you..”
2. Memorial Library, Booth Bay Harbor, Maine
This Greek-revival style library has been remodeled since its 1906 inception. Behind the library is a porched Friends Store–a treasure trove of bargain books. Wonderful children’s space.
“Public libraries in the United States outnumber McDonald’s; they outnumber retail bookstores two to one.”
4. Providence Atheneum, Providence, Rhode Island
An independent, member-supported library open to the public since 1838. Near campus of Brown University. Its Greek temple style architecture and high ceilings make this small library feel spacious. Special antique and first edition collections of children’s books, nature, art, and British and American literature.
5. Fogg Library, S. Weymouth, MA
Renaissance Revival stone library built in 1897. The historical building houses a children’s library and lovely upstairs study space.
“The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of their right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society, for open debate and creation of public opinion.”
6. Eldredge Library, Chatham, MA
Small-town historic library on Cape Cod. Its stain-glass windows, oak wainscoting, marble foyer, and large wooden mantle fireplace take you back in time.
7. West Bloomfield Township Library, W. Bloomfield, MI
A National Medal modern library with inviting spaces for all. Fabulous children’s area. Garden terrace with tables. A gift shop, too!
8. Ames Free Library, Easton, MA
An architectural gem, opened 1883. A spiral staircase connects the two floors. Peaceful landscaped gardens with pond and fountain. Truly a sanctuary.
9. New York Public Library, 42nd Street and Fifth Ave.
While not exactly a cozy reading library in my mind, it’s not to be missed. Take a free tour. Enjoy the famous “between the lions” steps, the grand foyer, impressive architecture, art collection, classic reading room, map room, and special exhibits. (Walt Whitman:American Poet through 8/30/19). The gift shop is my favorite!
“The number of books destroyed or spoiled was equal to the entirety of fifteen typical branch libraries. It was the greatest loss to any public library in the history of the United States.”
10. My Secret Library Writing Room
Which library do you love?