My love affair with Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night has come to an amicable conclusion. And while the affair may be over, my love will go on forever. *Sigh*
I didn’t find the book to be dazzling. It was more quiet and gentle, like a library! There also is no argument that is carried throughout the book. There are a couple ideas that come and go depending on the focus of the chapter, but I wouldn’t say there is a thesis or a point to be made other than how wonderful are libraries and how important they are to human knowledge and memory. The book is more of a library love-fest–and by library I mean a library of books–and that’s reason enough for me to love the book.
Manguel approaches various aspects of libraries in different chapters like “The Library as Myth,” “The Library as Shape,” “The Library as Survival,” and “The Library as Identity.” There is lots of history and stories about interesting people. And Manguel is not afraid to also include personal anecdotes and descriptions of his own gorgeous library in France. He may be a writer but he is also a reader and his love of reading shines through on every page. He also has a fantastic sense of humor. Early in the book he is talking about buying books both old and new and how the only thing he ever tries to change about them is to remove
the malignant price-sticker that malignant booksellers attach to the backs. These evil white scraps rip off with difficulty, leaving leprous wounds and traces of slime to which adhere dust and fluff of ages, making me wish for a special gummy hell to which the inventor of these stickers would be condemned.
I laughed out loud at that and had to read it to my Bookman too who very obligingly allowed me to interrupt his reading.
The book is also full of passages that beg to be quoted but if I did that I’d be quoting the whole book. So here is a passage that, while not the best quote, is still something all of you will be able to appreciate:
Visitors often as if I’ve read all my books; my usual answer is that I’ve certainly opened every one of them. The fact is that a library, whatever its size, need not be read in its entirety to be useful; every reader profits from a fair balance between knowledge and ignorance, recall and oblivion….I have no feeling of guilt regarding the books 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.
There is also a fantastic notes section at the back of the book listing all of Manguel’s citations. Oh it is glorious. The only problem though is that Manguel reads several different languages and consults many sources in their original language, languages that I cannot read. There are some I can figure out like Goethe for instance. But there are others that I am afraid I can’t puzzle out and even if I could I don’t think they are available in English. Still, there is plenty in English that will add a couple of pages to my TBR list. But you know what? If there wasn’t a great list of citations at the back of the book I would have been so disappointed and sad. Part of the fun of reading books like this one is the new books I find because of it.
Do check out The Library at Night and have a love affair of your own. It is one you won’t regret.