Portland, Oregon

Susan Orlean

Journalist and bestselling author, Susan Orlean, talks about what topics spark her interest and her process of writing The Library Book.

In this episode of The Archive Project, journalist and bestselling author, Susan Orlean, talks about what kinds of topics spark her interest and her process of researching and writing The Library Book. Orlean shares the two kinds of stories that she is drawn to as a writer: Stories of new discoveries, and stories that are hiding in plain sight. The Library Book combines both of these qualities. On April 29, 1986, Los Angeles’s Central Library burned in a mysterious fire. 400,000 books were destroyed in the blaze, 700,000 more were damaged, and the library shut down for seven years. The Library Book explores this heartbreaking story and, more broadly, the deep, meaningful impact that libraries have on societies and humanity as a whole. Orlean shares how she stumbled upon this remarkable story and reads a selection from the book.

“There is something about libraries—something about books—that is connected so much more deeply than I ever imagined. I thought, someone should write a book about that.”

“There is some way that we feel connected to books that’s not logical, it’s not rational, but it’s been a feature of human experience since we first began writing.”


Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin TinSaturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York.

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