It’s a mystery which triggered a literary disaster on an epic scale in Southern California. In 1986 an arson fire ripped through the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The unsolved mystery led to a new, critically acclaimed work: “The Library Book,” about libraries by award-winning author Susan Orlean. She’s speaking about the project this week on the South Coast.
The longtime staff writer with The New Yorker admits she stumbled across the idea for a book, which would become “The Library Book,” while on a tour of the facility. Orlean was flabbergasted to find out about the mostly forgotten three decade old story.
An aspiring actor was arrested for the fire, but never charged. But Orlean says she saw the potential for something bigger in the book: An examination of the role of libraries in modern day society.
Orlean is known for her distinctive non-fiction storytelling. Her 1998 book “The Orchid Thief” inspired the movie Adaptation, which earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for her role as the author.
Orlean says people sometimes think libraries have lost some of their relevance in the online rule, but she says that instead, libraries have evolved. She’s hoping the book helps get people thinking and supporting our libraries.
Orlean says her new book, “The Library Book,” may find new life as a film, like “The Orchid Thief.” Orlean will speak at UC Santa Barbara Thursday night. The UCSB Arts and Lectures event will take place at 7:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall.