What I’m reading this week: “The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean 📚🔥 It’s every librarian’s nightmare. A devastating loss to a vibrant city’s collective culture and memory. In 1986, the same week as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown crisis in Russia, the Los Angeles Central Library was set ablaze by an arsonist. The fire spread quickly through the old building and incinerated everything in its path, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of thousands of books and priceless archival items were reduced to ash. Hundreds of thousands more were irreversibly damaged or severely threatened by water and smoke damage. The next day, thousands of volunteers converged on the building and formed a human chain, handing waterlogged books out of the building and rushing them to local commercial freezers to prevent mold from destroying them forever.
I’m partway through this extraordinary paean to the glory of libraries and their uniquely important place in the American social edifice. Author Susan Orlean combines a detailed journalistic style with her characteristically vivid and evocative prose to do more than simply tell the tale of a devastating fire and rebirth. Along the way, she rekindles her (and our) love for the American public library, and illustrates why this beloved institution perpetually rises from the ashes, again and again.
What I’m reading this week: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” by Matthew Desmond. 📚🌧
Housing is a basic human need. It irrevocably shapes our lives and our destinies. It also can be a lucrative and, at times, cruel and devastating business.
This landmark nonfiction work tells eight stories of families who were swept up in the process of eviction. Along the way, the book sheds new light on the myriad social currents, large and small, that have brought American society to the brink of an alarming housing crisis. The people whose stories are told within— tenants and landlords alike— are expertly brought to life though the author’s masterfully descriptive and empathetic writing.
I’m completely engrossed in this astonishing book. The stories it tells seem so familiar yet they reveal something new about who we are as a society; about power, privilege, and the meaning of home.
What I’m reading this week: “Dark Matter,” by Blake Crouch 😀📚
Nothing is real, but nothing to get hung about, goes the classic song. Who among us hasn’t wished to travel back in time and try the door not opened? I’m halfway through this sci-fi / suspense mashup that uses pop science as a vehicle to explore this notion— with a twist, naturally. And I’m hooked. Plenty of dialogue and screen-ready descriptions (the author has written several television series) render this book a quick and engaging read. Perfect for a wet winter Sunday by the fire.🔥🌧
What I’m reading this week: Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, by Menno Schilthuizen 📖
Nature adapts and evolves in response to changes in the environment. Cities have their own ecosystems, and many species have developed unique adaptions to survive and thrive in the urban environment. From sewers to the rooftops and everything in between, this book explores the many urban worlds where nature unexpectedly thrives.
I’m bracing myself for a deep dive into this book, which is billed as an unflinching look at the dangers tech leviathans Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon pose to human freedom and self-determination. Author Franklin Foer is the former editor of the liberal New Republic magazine. He was hired in that role shortly after the magazine was bought by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in 2012. It was a time when clickbait was ascendant and few people understood (or cared about) the extent of personal data collection taking place. The book has its defenders and detractors. Bouncing around the various reviews of the book, pro and con, is not unlike wading through a contentious Facebook comment thread. I’m looking forward to reading it myself so I can form my own opinion 🤔📖
📚🌎✈️ Here’s an interesting vignette from my day at the library. Recently, a library user in Argentina sent a message to our Facebook page asking us for help with a book she had checked out from us. She had been in the US on a student visa, presumably to pursue her studies at the university. Over the holiday break, she flew back home to Argentina to be with her family. Before she left, she borrowed a library book to read while she traveled. She planned to return to the US before the book came due. But after arriving in Argentina, she learned that her student visa would not be renewed and she wouldn’t be able to return to the US as planned.
She messaged us and asked for advice how she could resolve the issue of
the library book she’d borrowed, because she couldn’t bear the thought
of not returning her library books. She offered to pay for the book.
We said, can you simply mail it back to us? She traveled to the nearest
city and inquired about shipping rates, and was told it would cost
over $200 USD to ship the book back to the US. Hearing this, she sent
us another message offering again to pay for the book, but she also
mentioned that her American host family would be meeting with her during
spring break, and suggested that her host family could bring the book
back with them. We told her that we did not want her to pay so much for
shipping, and we would rather have the book back than make her pay for
it, so we happily agreed to extend the due date of her book until
after spring break when her host family visits her. There are many
things about this vignette that provoke thought, but I won’t offer
analysis here. I will just say that this young woman’s
conscientiousness and sincerity is extraordinary and I hope she is able
to resume her studies here soon. 😀📚 #library#books#borders
I love working in downtown Hayward. I feel very fortunate and thankful to be a part of my hometown’s progress and future. The new library is being built right across the street from my office in the old library. I can look out my window and see the construction proceeding nicely. (I even get a chance to go inside from time to time.) Library staff and city coworkers often drop by my office with questions or business that needs my attention. Just this morning, a respected local community member dropped in unannounced to let me know that his organization would be making a generous donation toward books for the new library. I was very happy to receive his message, as you can imagine. The kindness and generosity of people in the Hayward community truly knows no bounds. I take a walk for lunch. The world’s best hot dogs are one block away at Casper’s on C Street. The world’s best little bookstore is right around the corner at Books on B. Best of all, it’s Friday, the sun is shining, and the holidays are right around the corner. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hayward’s new library is taking shape. Crews have begun installing massive glass panels for the three story front window. Primarily built of steel, concrete, glass, and terracotta and powered by solar energy produced onsite, the 21st Century Library is the most environmentally sustainable public building ever to begin construction in Hayward. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat to its construction – from the window of my office in the old library across the street.
With polling numbers like this, maybe public libraries should run for office! 🙂
“This graphic highlights results from the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, released December 2013. More than 6,000 Americans ages 16 and older were asked about their views of public libraries and the role these institutions serve in their communities. The results show that an overwhelming majority of Americans value libraries.”