Tuesday, March 19, 2019
“Susan Orlean,” said Pico Iyer, pointing at the glasses on the low table in front of him, “could write a story about this glass of water and make it interesting.” Iyer’s claim isn’t an exaggeration. The acclaimed author of The Orchid Thief and numerous articles for the New Yorker and other publications, spoke with Iyer about her recent book, The Library Book, a magnificent account of the 1986 Central Library fire in Los Angeles that damaged or destroyed more than 700,000 books.
Orlean dazzled a large Arts & Lectures audience with views on her adopted home, Los Angeles, and her obsession with telling stories about people and places that other writers might find unremarkable. In talking about her writing process, Orlean said that when she takes on a project, she dives deep and doesn’t begin writing until she feels ready to become, as she put it, a teacher rather than a student. She spent five and a half years researching and writing The Library Book, learning everything she could about how a massive city library system functions (loaning books is the easy part), arson, book restoration, and the astonishing outpouring of community support that materialized in the aftermath of the Central Library fire, which defied the commonly held notion that Los Angeles has no civic soul.
“We are profoundly and intensely connected to libraries,” Orlean said. “They are the eternal repositories of our collective stories.”