This weekend I finished Susan Orlean’s The Library Book and … wow. I will have more to say about this book but for now I want to give a slow-clap standing ovation to the writing. This was my first Orlean and she is remarkable.
Take this early description of the Los Angeles CentralLibrary:
…the neighborhood consists of dour, dark office towers standing shoulder to shoulder, casting long shafts of shade across what is left of the hill. Central Library is an entire city block wide, but it is only eight stories high, making it sort of ankle-height compared to these leggy office towers.
Or this of the withdrawing 1986 fire that resulted in the destruction of over a million books:
The fire pulled back from the southeast section of the building and curled up in the northeast stacks where it glowered angrily, feeding itself book after book, a monster snacking on chips.
And the lists! Orleans knows that readers love details, even ones that seem superfluous:
What was lost: A volume of Don Quixote from 1860, illustrated by French printmaker Gustave Doré. All of the books about the Bible, Christianity, and church history. All biographies of subjects H through K. All American and British plays. All theater history. All Shakespeare. Ninety thousand books about computers, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, seismology, engineering, and metallurgy.
This is catch your breath and read it over again prose. This is interrupt your significant other at whatever else he or she is doing and read a section out loud prose. This is a book that makes one specific library and then libraries in general so compelling that you tear through a library book called The Library Book and have no regrets. This is inspiring, try to be a better writer and begin by stealing these techniques prose. Because when writing is this good, it’s easy to see why it matters and how even the most mundane of subjects can sparkle, dance, and then punch you in the face.