Susan Orlean's The Library Book released in October to a great deal of critical acclaim. Everyone was talking about this book leading up to its release. I first heard about it in August, and the more I heard about it, the more I was compelled to read it. I ended up pre-ordering this one on faith, as I had never read anything from Susan Orlean before (though I soon found out that I actually have another one of her books sitting on my shelf waiting to be read!). Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.
First off, The Library Book is gorgeous. I love its cover and the feel of the pages. I was impressed immediately and had to start reading right away. The book investigates the Los Angeles Public Library fire of 1986 while also delving into the history of libraries and its patrons. I found this book absolutely fascinating, so much so that I couldn't put it down. I was engrossed in the history and all the information.
Orlean splits the information up into easy to digest chapters, switching between the history of the Library and the LAP Library Fire in 1986. She writes in such a way that it makes the reader feel as though she is sitting next to them, sharing what she has gleaned. I learned so much while reading this book without even realizing it at the time.
I can not praise the book enough. It is superbly done. You can tell that Orlean was diligent in her painstaking research and development of this book. There is a great deal of information amongst the pages. Often in a case where there's a lot of info in a book, it tends to leave the reader feeling overloaded. That's not the case with The Library Book. Orlean handles the whole thing beautifully.
I love Orlean's writing style. She has been a staff writer at The New Yorker for over 20 years, and that journalistic style shines through in this book. It reads beautifully and holds the reader captive until the very end. The Library Book is officially among my three favorite books of 2018, and it has earned a permanent place on my "Favorites" shelf.
I give it a 9/10.
The Blood of Heroes: The 13 Day Struggle For The Alamo and The Sacrifice That Forged A Nation by James Donovan is truly history at its best. A few months ago I became interested in The Alamo and its history (and legend), and it has now developed into a full on passion. I’ve been researching and reading up on the siege, the events leading up to it, and the results of the Alamo’s fall. The Blood of Heroes was one of the first books that I read on the subject (after many hours spent researching).
It is clear by his extensive and sourced notes (roughly 80 pages worth) included in the back of the book that Donovan rigorously researched the subjects on hand. Donovan does an expert job at not only detailing the lives of the brave men (and women) who fought for Texas’ independence, but also providing crucial information and details on the events leading up to the siege of the Alamo and the results of the fall.
The Blood of Heroes gives a short but detailed biography of each key player in the battle for the Alamo. William Barret Travis, James Bowie, Santa Anna, and of course, the most famous of them all, David Crockett, all receive at least a chapter’s worth of an account of their lives leading up to the siege. Other honorable mentions include Sam Houston, Frank Johnson, James Neill, Ben Milam, “Deaf” Smith, Susanna Dickinson, Joe (Bowie’s slave), and Juan Seguín, among others. I personally found it fascinating to see these key players’ lives unfold and intertwine with each other. I learned that quite a few of these men knew each other or at the very least crossed paths before the siege took place. I also admired the fact that Donovan managed to remain respectful and keep some of the legend behind each man intact, while exposing flaws and shortcomings. He expertly humanized them which made them feel more approachable, all the while conveying to the reader that these people deserved respect for all that they contributed. They may have been flawed human beings, but they were brave and noble when it came to the cause of Texas.
Donovan’s writing style is one that is informative and thorough, yet also vivid and captivating. The 500 page novel reads quickly. Once you start, you can’t put it down. I found myself engrossed within the first few pages. As Donovan walks you through the various lives and events leading up to the big battle, you feel as though you are living right alongside these brave and noble people. I particularly enjoyed how he handled the final battle for the Alamo. It was both riveting and moving. I found myself cheering for the Alamo defenders even though I already knew the outcome. You cannot help but feel invested in the lives of those brave men after reading the back-story leading up to the siege. I was moved almost to tears as Donovan moved through the scene, mapping out the battle and ultimately the deaths of the defenders. The battle plays out with a rawness to it. It’s honest, chaotic, bloody, and heart wrenching, but Donovan handles it with the utmost respect and ultimately the scene leaves you with a sense of pride for the defenders. I swear I could feel my heart swell with pride when I read the line, “De la Peña could not help but admire one robust blond norteamericano as he fired, ran back a few steps while loading, turned, and fired again, until he finally fell,” which alludes to David Crockett and his brave last moments.
One thing about The Blood of Heroes that I respected and enjoyed was the fact that he steered away from the revisionist take on the events. Among the most argued about beliefs regarding the Alamo, is Crockett’s death. Some revisionists hold to the belief that Crockett wasn’t killed in battle, rather he surrendered and was executed after. They cite what they refer to as strong evidence that points to Crockett not dying in battle. The trouble with the evidence on hand is the fact that the majority of eyewitness accounts, including some on the Mexican side, points to Crockett dying bravely in battle with his men. The evidence/accounts that differ are not strong enough to disprove the original accounts and conclusions, as they are second and third hand accounts, and often misread/mistranslated. Therefore most of us still hold to the belief that Crockett died in battle, and I’m appreciative of Donovan for doing his research and deciding to stick to that account for now.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the siege of the Alamo/Texas history and looking for a historical account. The Blood of Heroes is well written, thoroughly researched, riveting, and brings a vividness to the well known story of The Alamo. It is truly a must read!
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....