Nothing breaks a book-lover’s heart like a tale of the destruction of a library, from historical ancient Alexandria to the epic fictional finale of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. On November 6, the Pleasant Valley Free Library in Dutchess County was rendered homeless by a smoldering fire that started in the basement of the 1870s-vintage building. The good news is that most of the damage was done by smoke, and library officials have estimated that some 90 percent of the book collection may be salvageable.
The Los Angeles Public Library wasn’t so lucky when its building went up in flames in April 1986. Readers know, thanks to Ray Bradbury, that paper ignites at 451 degrees Fahrenheit; the conflagration that occurred in the LAPL reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. More than 400,000 books were destroyed, and arson has long been the suspected cause.
The unsolved case of the most catastrophic library fire in American history became an obsession for longtime New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, best-selling author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin. Her new book on the subject uses the LAPL tragedy as a jumping-off point for a deep dive into the history and culture of libraries and the personalities who keep this cherished institution alive. Currently on tour promoting The Library Book, she’ll be paying a visit to Upstairs at Murray’s in Tivoli at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5. In light of recent events, the sponsoring organization for Orlean’s talk, the Tivoli Free Library, has decided to donate funds raised by the $10 entry fee toward the rebuilding effort for Pleasant Valley Library. The ticket price can be applied in full toward the purchase of The Library Book at this event. To purchase, visit https://bit.ly/2PFTIbJ.