Years ago, my husband gave me a copy of The Orchid Thief as a gift. This was back before I ventured much into non-fiction, and one of those gifts that he figured would be great because we could both read it. While we are completely in sync in our love for books, we have our differences when it comes to genres. There are plenty of classics we both love, but generally he is more action/non-fiction, and I am more historical fiction/memoir. In his defense, though, The Orchid Thief had a novel-like plot, and was so much more than a story about orchids. As a birthday present, though, it was a bust. He read it before I did, and even he did not give it rave reviews. I think he described it as “quirky”, which is apparently a negative for him, but usually a plus for me. I read it. Ok, I tried. I wanted to love it, I really did, because honestly, that cover was beautiful!
Fast forward to late last year, and NetGalley offered a new book by Susan Orleans. It had been so long since that last one, and, like childbirth, I’d pretty much forgotten the experience. But the real reason I begged for the book? It’s about Libraries! Ok, it’s about a particular one, the Los Angeles Public Library, and a fire that changes many lives, along with the library system. I don’t know if I’ve just matured and come to appreciate non-fiction more, but Orleans wowed me with this book.
Besides tremendous research and investigative skills, Orleans brings warmth and a generous spirit to the story. She gets to the heart of the systemic problems, uncovers information about the long-standing arson suspect, and brings to life on the page all of the people who help make this library hum. When so many people do the majority of their reading on their phone, this book brings me hope. It is a love letter to all public libraries, and an inspiring acknowledgement of their important place in our communities.