Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: The Library At Night

This is a book that is almost impossible to do justice to in a review. It should be required reading for all bibliophiles, and certainly in library schools. A luscious book about libraries: ancient, modern, imagined, real, paper, stone, virtual, digital, scrolled, rolled, bound, shelved, piled, cataloged, but always there for generations to relish, to wallow in, to dream about and in, to build, to burn, to own, to borrow from, to discover, to remember, to organize or leave alone. Manguel is well read, has lived in (by his count) 6 countries and has books in a myriad of languages. His classical references, along with his easy acceptance of the possibilities of the WEB as a library make this a fascinating read. He examines the library as (a separate chapter for each) Myth, Order, Space, Power, Shadow, Shape, Chance, Workshop, Mind, Island, Survival, Oblivion, Imagination, Identity and Home. There are so many quotes I noted in my notebook, I could almost publish another book. Here are just a few: The Library as Myth:
" Every reader exists to ensure for a certain book a modest immortality. Reading is, in this sense, a ritual of rebirth." pg. 28
The Library as Order - here's one I can really relate to, and am still struggling with - how to arrange the books in one's library:
"For several weeks, I unpacked the hundreds of boxes that had, until then, taken up the whole of the dining-room, carried them into the empty library and then stood bewildered among teetering columns of books that seemed to combine the vertical ambition of Babel with the horizontal greed of Alexandria. For almost three months I sifted through these piles, attempting to create a kind of order, working from early in the morning to very late at night." pg. 41.
The Library as Space:
"It has always been my experience that, whatever groupings I choose for my books, the space in which I plan to lodge them, necessarily reshapes my choice and, more important, in no time proves too small for them and forces me to change my arrangement. pg 66.
The Library as Shadow:
"Every library is exclusionary, since its selection, however vast, leaves outside its walls endless shelves of writing that, for reasons of taste, knowledge, space and time, have not been included." pg. 107.
The Library as Island:
"Our society accepts the book as a given, but the act of reading--once considered useful and important, as well as potentially dangerous and subversive--is now condescendingly accepted as a pastime, a slow pastime that lacks efficency and does not contribute to the common good." p. 223.
The Library as Survival:
"...books can sometimes help us phrase our questions, but they do not necessarily enable us to decipher the answers. Through reported voices and imagined stories, books merely allow us to remember what we have never suffered and have never known." pg. 247.
The Library as Oblivion:
"I have no feeling of guilt regarding the book I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days." pg. 254.
and finally the Library as Home:
"As we wander among our books, picking at random a volume from the shelves and leafing through it, the pages either astound us by the difference from our own experience or comfort us with their similitude." pg. 308
This is one read I will return to again and again.


  1. This sounds like a book I MUST have! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. You have peaked my curiousity! I must read this.


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