The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel
This is Booked All Week’s first post ever, and an entry about Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night seems the perfect introduction to any blog about books. Alberto Manguel is an essayist, novelist, non-fiction author, editor, translator, anthologist, and multi-linguist who lives in a renovated presbytery in France, with a private library that houses over 30,000 of his books. So, um, yeah. He’s the coolest.
The Library at Night is a graceful collection of ruminations about libraries, each beginning with the idea of a library “as myth”, “as order”, “as power”, “as survival”…as all the things that libraries can be and have been in the human imagination. Manguel investigates the ways in which the contents of a library reflect the identities of their creators, and the ways in which libraries represent our attempts at ordering the chaos and confusion of the universe and our place inside it.
Manguel evaluates the inherent limitations and the soaring possibilities of the library as a place, as an institution, as a self-containing world and as a safe-haven, all from the perspective of a widely learned and professional admirer of books. He also notes the endless evolutions of the library’s role in society, from that of symbolic national monument to authority to multi-media cultural center, and thus the changing roles of the librarian and the library-goer as well. But he enters the current Digital Revolution debates barely and easily, without dragging his words from their lofty, philosophical place to one of tedious debate over the value of dead-tree-books vs. online text etc. (not that that debate is irrelevant or necessarily uninteresting, just that I was so enthralled by every other angle of viewing the library presented by Manguel that I considered this particular, familiar debate to be a potential distraction from what was new and exciting to me–luckily, my worries were for nothing).
The book is kept fun and light, too, with plentiful anecdotes about historical figures who have loved books and the libraries they have built, financed, and frequented. One of my favorite stories was actually not about a library, nor was it about anyone particularly well-known. It was about one book fan that I’m sure many of us other book fans will easily sympathize with, one Mr. Patrice Moore who, in the year 2003, had to be dug out of his apartment by firefighters after spending two days literally trapped under the various books, magazines, and journals comprising his personal collection. Eeek! Though I aspire to be like Alberto Manguel, I fear a fate similar to that of Patrice Moore.
I love this book, and will soon be picking up Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading. Recommended to anyone who is serious about their love for reading and enjoys constructing ever-growing lists of possible ways to catalogue collections.