Susan Orlean’s book about 1986 L.A. library fire headed to television

Susan Orlean displays a book that survived the devastating fire at the L.A. Central Library.
Susan Orlean displays a book that survived the devastating fire at the L.A. Central Library.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book,” a nonfiction account about the fire that devastated Los Angeles’ Central Library in 1986, is headed to the small screen.

Paramount Television and production company Anonymous Content have acquired the television rights to Orlean’s bestseller, Variety reported Monday.

Orlean will write the series with James Ponsoldt, the director of feature films like “The Spectacular Now” and “The End of the Tour.” Ponsoldt is slated to direct the pilot episode; both he and Orlean will be executive producers on the series.


“The Library Book” chronicles the fire that broke out at the Central Library on April 29, 1986. The fire raged for seven hours before being put out; it destroyed 400,000 books and caused $22 million in damage to the building and its materials.

Investigators believed the fire was deliberately set, but no one has ever been convicted of arson in the case.

Orlean’s book is a nominee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the current interest category, along with Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk.”

She’s scheduled to discuss her book at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at 10:30 a.m. April 13 with The Times’ deputy managing editor for arts and entertainment, Julia Turner.

“I am so excited to see this book leap from the page to the screen and tell the story of a place that’s so well-loved and complex and interesting,” Orlean told Variety. “I’ve been a fan of James’ since his first film, and to have Paramount Television and Anonymous Content as our partners, with their great respect for writers and writing, makes this my dream team.”

This won’t be Orlean’s first book to be adapted for the screen. Her 1998 book “The Orchid Thief” was the inspiration for Spike Jonze’s 2002 movie “Adaptation.” Meryl Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Orlean.

Paramount Television President Nicole Clemens praised Orlean’s book as a “captivating narrative.”

“Each day at the library, the human drama that unfolds among staff and patrons of every socioeconomic level — funny, sad, inspiring,unexpected — speaks to the highs and lows of our country right now,and we’re excited to bring these stories to life on screen,” Clemens said.