A Good Library is an Adventure and a Sanctuary, is the title of one of my boards on Pinterest, and this is a conviction I’ve held since my teenage years. I first saw libraries as a sanctuary from a school that I’d come to despise and from an English teacher who, from a lack of interest in the subject, combined with an authoritarian nature that brooked no alternative view, almost killed my love of books. I learnt of them as a source of adventure, via the books inside, these were my guides to at first my own country and then by following the paths suggested by those books and their writers to other worlds beyond the shores of this Isle. This lead to my impression of what a library is or could be.
Like most readers & Lit-bloggers I have the library that exists in my home and the ideal one of my dreams, that if money, time, and space were no object, I would build, where each book and shelf would represent each reader as they perceive themselves to be, and as a receptacle for all the gained wisdom/knowledge gained over the years. Alberto Manguel has obviously been dwelling on this subject and the result of all his cogitation is ……
The Library at Night is a book by one of my favourite readers, a man who has made a career writing about us and our obsession, in the process creating a series of books that highlight the joys of books and all that would relate to them. <<
In this particular one, Alberto Manguel’s subject is libraries, taking us the reader from his own, created in an old stone barn beside his 15th century home in France, through the centuries to Alexandria, via places such as China, Greece, Egypt, and Rome.
This book although seemingly inspired by the creation of his own library, and his obvious passion for books, is also a call to arms. Although Manguel knows he is calling from the ramparts of a castle already stormed and taken, that libraries as repositories of physical books are on the decline, this doesn’t stop him passionately defending libraries & books against the digital onslaught. This book is also a prayer, and love letter, calling all of history – real or imagined - to present it’s case.
The Library at Night, is divided into fifteen chapters, each one an essay on an aspect of the library as seen by the writer, they range from The library as Myth, as Order, as Power, ending with The Library as Home. These headings provide a starting point, a diving board for Alberto Manguel, to regale us with anecdotes, stories, quotes, ransacking his own wealth of knowledge & historic documentation to allow the reader to consider the impact this repository has had on civilizations and how in times of darkness it has been a safe-holding, awaiting the next period of enlightenment.
Ranging from the doomed library of Alexandria to the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Aby Warburg and Count Dracula, this personal and deliberately unsystematic book defines the critical role that libraries have and must continue to play in our civilization as deep repositories of our memory and experience.
In the game where you imagine people from the present or the past, sitting at a dinner table with some wonderful repast & inspired banter, or at some quaint bar a glass of something warm and golden, the conversation flowing the same way, Alberto Manguel would be one of my guests, I love how he writes, how his thought process seems to work, how he somehow adds warmth & passion to subjects that could appear dry & dusty.
This is the fourth book by him that I’ve read and like the others they somehow manage to be both page turners, and something you just want to relish, the writing is something you want to wallow in, to savour, repeating sentences whilst grinning inanely knowing you have found a likeminded soul & one that has the words to communicate how you feel.
“The Ideal Library symbolizes everything a society stands for. A society depends on its libraries to know who it is because libraries are societies memory” I’ve used this quote in my credo to define my blog, and although it comes from A Reader on Reading, it works just as well to define this book and probably Alberto Manguel’s world view.
Alberto Manguel was born in 1948 in Buenos Aires to an Argentinean diplomat and spent his early years in Israel. He spoke English growing up before learning Spanish. He learned to read when he was four and, due to illness, spent most of his childhood alone with books. He worked in a bookshop during his time at school, and when he was 16 he worked for the poet Jorge Luis Borges, who was going blind, as a reader. Manguel studied Comparative Literature and worked as an editor at a publishing house as well as writing reviews, stage plays and film scripts and translating literature, including the works of Marguerite Yourcenar, into English.
“Beyond the national library of any nation lies a library greater than all. because it contains each and every one of them: an inconceivably vast and ideal library of all the books ever written, and of those that exist only as possibilities, as volumes still to come. This colossal accumulation of libraries overshadows any single collection of books and yet is implied in everyone of their volumes.” (From the chapter library at home)