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Epic Library Fire Subject of Santa Monica Reads

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By Jorge Casuso

June 23, 2020 -- Bookworms undergoing withdrawal after libraries closed during the coronavirus emergency can only imagine what it would be like if they didn't reopen for seven years.

That's what happened after the Los Angeles Central Library burned for more than seven hours during a mysterious blaze in 1986 that is the topic of this year's book choice for Santa Monica Reads.

Los Angeles Central Library Fire
Photo of 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire courtsey of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles

"The Library Book" by Susan Orlean, is the basis of a series of special events and book discussions that will take place from Monday, June 22 through Monday, September 7.

"During COVID-19, we are living in unprecedented times," Santa Monica Public Library officials said in announcing the choice. "The need for libraries and community connection is more important than ever."

That is the underlying theme of the unsolved mystery that unfolds in Orlean's book chronicling a fire with temperatures that reached 2,000 degrees, as it destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more.

"The Library Book re-opens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history while paying homage to all public libraries," officials said.

"The book presents an intriguing history of the city of Los Angeles, as well as the Central Library fire."

The series features a virtual presentation and discussion with Orlean, an award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author, on Saturday, July 25.

Other virtual events include a presentation on the Architecture of Los Angeles Central Library and a discussion of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel "Fahrenheit 451," which takes its title from the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.

For more information about the free, public programs call Santa Monica Public Library at (310) 458-8600 or visit

Due to COVID-19, the Santa Monica Public Library is temporarily closed until further notice.

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