The Library Book

by Susan Orlean
First sentence: “Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.”
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Content: There is some mild swearing and a few disturbing moments. It’s in the History section of the bookstore.

In the spring of 1986, in between the Challenger explosion and the Chernobyl disaster, the Central Library in Los Angeles caught fire. It was a huge fire, burning for hours and destroying hundreds of thousands of books. It’s something that people in LA remember, but outside of LA? Who knew? So Orlean, who is a masterful non-fiction writer, tackled the story. It’s not just an investigation into the fire — they suspected someone and arrested him, but they never had enough evidence to charge him, and then he later died from AIDS — but a history of the LA library system and an exploration of what the LA library is now.

It’s probably no surprise, but I loved this one. It’s incredibly well-written and utterly fascinating. I think part of me was hoping that she’d “solve” the arson — though she did have a chapter talking about arson crimes, and how investigating them has changed in the last 30 years, and speculated that maybe the LA fire wasn’t arson — but, really, I was just along for the wonderful ride.

And do pick up a real copy of this book. The package is absolutely beautiful. It’s a reminder why books — and libraries! — are important.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

libraryolympicsby Chris Grabenstein
First sentence: “Just about every kid in America wished they could be Kyle Keeley.”
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Others in the series: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Content: Much like the first in the series, this one has short chapters and not much objectionable content. There are some bigger words, but Grabenstein defines them for you. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Ever since they won the competition to get out of Mr. Lemoncello’s library, Kyle and his friends Miguel, Sierra, and Akimi have had a certain amount of celebrity. Signing autographs, starring in commercials, the whole deal. Which, of course, has made everyone (not just Charles and Andrew, who lost the previous competition) a bit jealous. So they demand a rematch. And Mr. Lemoncello responds with the Library Olympics: kids will compete to be on regional teams which will then come to Alexandriaville to compete against the winning four.

The competitions are one part fun and one part silly and one part learning. And, of course, Charles and his mother (ugh) are up to their no-good tricks, trying to wrest control of the library from Mr. Lemoncello (in order to make it a More Respectable House of Learning) and kick him out of town. Additionally there’s a scary good (and kind of scary) competitor from Michigan, Marjory, who really knows her stuff.

It’s a bit more didactic than the last one — yes, we know: learning can be fun and censorship is bad — but I found I didn’t mind. It was fun, and filled with riddles and puzzles that will entertain kids. It’s delightful to revisit the wacky fun library again, even if we didn’t spend as much time there this time. And even though sequels aren’t often as good as the original, it was enjoyable.

The World’s Strongest Librarian

by Josh Hanagarne
First sentence: “Today the library was hot, humid, and smelly.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, including a half-dozen (or so) f-bombs. I think older teenagers — especially ones that are struggling with education — would really like this one. It’s in the biography section at the bookstore.

As soon as this came out, I knew I wanted to read it. It’s about a Mormon, a librarian, and a man who has Tourette Syndrome. Granted, it’s been out for a while and it took my book group to get me to read it (too many other things to read; no excuse!), but I’m very (very!) glad I did.

It’s a straight-up memoir of Hanagarne’s experiences growing up. He was raised LDS (I loved his family; he’s got great parents), and struggled with tics as a result of Tourette’s throughout growing up. He wasn’t officially diagnosed until he was a teenager, but it was a part of his life. He found books though (yay, books!) and that helped give him a sense of purpose and direction. Though his life wasn’t easy: it took him 10 years to graduate from college; he kept dropping out because his Tourette’s made it difficult for him to focus.

It was a fascinating tale, not only of his faith journey — he has had some good leaders in his life — but of his personal journey trying to figure out how to handle his increasingly worsening Tourette’s. And it’s a very hopeful book: Hanagarne has managed to create a life for himself that works, in spite of (maybe because of) the obstacles in his way. He did an incredible job helping me picture what life with Tourette’s is like (not fun).

In addition — and perhaps this was my favorite part — Haragarne splices his personal story with ones from working at the Salt Lake City library, which helped break up the stories from the past and were highly interesting and entertaining.

It’s an odd book, probably not for everyone. But I found it be thought-provoking and fascinating.