What I liked
The descriptions and characterization of suspected arsonist Harry Peak, especially as seen through the eyes of other unreliable characters. His sister especially dropped a few details that made the reader realize she either doesn’t know the whole truth or doesn’t want to.
Similarly, I enjoyed the characterizations of historical staff members at the Los Angeles Public Library, including those fascinating directors. Although the book focused on an event in a place, it’s the people that make the story relatable.
What I didn’t like
The lists, mostly. Granted, this is coming from someone who loved Moby Dick. But listing out the types of garbage strewed along a fence line, the books being transferred from one library branch to another, the history of bookmobiles, and on and on… didn’t contribute to my understanding of the topic. It didn’t keep me engaged in the narrative.
And why do they ever let authors read their own audiobooks?
Given my day job, I know more about libraries than the average bear, I suppose. But I found myself fluctuating between “Duh, of course,” and “No, that’s not right.” I found several instances in which she listed a “fact” that was simply incorrect, including some about the place where I work. Which was frustrating.
What I can learn
Stay on task. It’s probably impossible to write a book about a contemporary topic that you don’t live and breathe that will be accepted without issue from people who do live and breathe it. So it makes more sense to me to stay on a topic that very few people live and breathe. If this book had focused just on Harry Peak and the fire or even the history of the LA Public Library staff, and less about what libraries are like today, I would have stayed more engaged.
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