The Library at Night

The Library at Night

by Alberto Manguel

Inspired by creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire, in France, the author tours from his childhood bookshelves to the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google.

He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thoughtthe Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 3.99
  • Pages: 373
  • Publish Date: April 29th 2008 by Yale University Press
  • Isbn10: 0300139144
  • Isbn13: 9780300139143

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It is interesting, given the title of this book, that I read most of it in the middle of the night. I usually keep a heavy, ponderous tome near to hand for nights of insomnia, but given that I went to bed thinking about this book I couldnt possibly even try to read something else when my eyelids snapped open at 2AM. I have over 3,000 books in my library, large by most standards, small in comparison to the great collectors throughout history. I dont read in my library. I do have my eye on an oxblood swivel chair that coupled with perfect lighting might provide me a reading space in my library. I can remember times when I read by moonlight usually on the rusted tin roof of an outlier shed that slumped on the edge of my fathers property. My galaxy was forming in the book before me as the world continued to change and evolve behind me. He made three separate staircases, each different, as if to give the reader a choice of which world he wishes to enter. In my study I also require certain talismans that have washed onto my desk over the years, which I distractedly finger while I think of the next words to write, Renaissance scholars recommended keeping different objects in the study: musical and astronomical instruments to lend variety and harmony to the space, natural curiosities such as strangely shaped stoned and coloured shells. I have artwork in my library at home as well as I did not want to have solid walls of books even though it was difficult giving up space that could shelve more books. His smooth head is rubbed by my hand almost every time I enter my library. As any reader knows, a printed page creates its own reading space, its own physical landscape in which the texture of the paper, the colour of the ink, the view of the whole ensemble acquire in the readers hands specific meanings that lend tone and context to the words. The first question people ask me when they enter my library is if Ive read all these books. I dont know what percentage of my library has been read by me and I have no interest in finding out. I will never read all the books in my library because I will always continue to buy books for my library. You will have lightning bolt moments reading this book.

For this latter reason alone Manguel's aesthetic observations are critical: something is being lost in the technology, quite apart from the books. I have supervised a small collegiate academic library at the University of Oxford for the last 10 years. In some ways this is an advantage since, unlike many of my colleagues in the university, I can actually pay attention to books and readers rather than technology and 'best practice' techniques. The reason: since the library opened in 1911 its books had been catalogued with a shelf location according to, not subject or title or author, which might have allowed a proximity search, but date of receipt by the Library. This was my first lesson in the concrete importance of library aesthetics. I wasn't aware either of Manguel's book, or my need for It. So I stumbled blindly into his aesthetic categories without assistance. Manguel's sense of the library collection as a whole is consequently vital. My first task at Blackfriars was the disposition of approximately 10,000 books left from several legacies and stored in boxes in every available nook and cranny in the college. Blackfriars is both a research and undergraduate library so there is a tendency is to keep as much as possible. On the other hand, our members have access to the enormous Bodleian collection as well as to other collegiate libraries. Ultimately the only thing a librarian can do is make an aesthetic judgement about the coherence of the entire collection. Manguel's appreciation of the aesthetics of power in the library is something I know many of my colleagues in other university libraries lack. Consequently we get a number of calls inquring whether our exceptionally large Hindu collection is available for browsing. As a collegiate library, we are entirely independent of the Bodleian but participate in the university-wide catalogue which is maintained by them. His view of the library as an essentially aesthetic object is correct and it is operational. Everything from architecture to the order of books on shelves can be subsumed under an aesthetic.

He knows that you look at your shelves at night, remembering a favorite passage, or how you acquired a book, as your gaze moves across titles on spines in the moonlight. He understands your frustration when you realize that you have forgotten books that you already have read, or that you remember specific passages or illustrations, but can't remember the book they come from. In The Library at Night, Manguel starts with his personal project - to oversee the renovation of a 15th-century barn, south of the river Loire, to house his own library.

as part of my new year's resolution to finally get around to reviewing all the books on my "favorites" shelf, i scrolled through all of 'em until i came to the first "naked" one. i wrote a really long review of this earlier and accidentally deleted it (i blame the painkillers, truly) so i am going to let this book speak for itself. 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. they will wait for me till the end of my days -yet one fearful characteristic of the physical world tempers any optimism that a reader may feel in any ordered library: the constraints of 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. like nature, libraries abhor a vacuum, and the problem of space is inherent in the very nature of any collection of books. new books, lying flat as in the earliest codex libraries, would begin to pile up one on top of the other.

Dreaming The Perfect LIBRARY The Quest & The Question The starting point, Manguel says is a question. And yet, with bewildering optimism, we continue to assemble whatever scraps of information we can gather in scrolls and books and computer chips, on shelf after library shelf, whether material, virtual or otherwise, pathetically intent on lending the world a semblance of sense and order, while knowing perfectly well that, however much wed like to believe the contrary, our pursuits are sadly doomed to failure. This book is the story of that quest, an account of my astonishment, as Manguel says and it is an astonishing journey for the readers as well. And since it is quixotic by definition, this reader will now follow a future dream Library as Manguel traces his past, real libraries. This reader wishes for a Library designed on The Brain, using folds and infolds to enfold a million books. The Library left behind and the books written, they shall define this readers legacy. THE LIBRARY AS SHADOW If every library is in some sense a reflection of its readers, it is also an image of that which we are not, and cannot be. This reader imagines a Library where the books are left to cluster by chance and then picked up cluster-by-cluster and put back with their intellectual soul-mates. A study lends its owner, its privileged reader, what Seneca called euthymia, a Greek word which Seneca explained means well-being of the soul, and which he translated as tranquillitas. Euthymia, memory without distraction, the intimacy of a reading time This reader can hardly imagine a more perfect Paradise. This reader too will generally know the position of any book by recalling the Librarys layout. This readers Library will have no books enthroned, but all arrayed to be read. THE LIBRARY AS OBLIVION Oblivion through enforced illiteracy; Lost books, lost libraries; Displaced This reader rejects this possibility. THE LIBRARY AS IMAGINATION The collecting of imaginary books is an ancient occupation. This reader is sure that his Library will have as many imaginary books as real ones.

I got out of bed and looked for a notebook so that I could take notes, but as I did so, the memory of the dream collapsed in on itself like a black hole. A dream for book lovers, lovers of libraries. Upon finishing, you will remember that it was brilliant, that it was all-engrossing, that you lived in it, you will have faint wisps of memories of pure genius and some of the most beautiful, languorous writing you have ever read, the sparks generated by the book will linger in your mind like latent spots phosphorescing on your eyes after seeing fireworks in the dark. It is, in this way, like a library itself.

Until then, here's a few of the many quotes I saved : But at night, when the library lamps are lit, the outside world disappears and nothing but this space of books remains in existence.

The library in which I have at long last collected my books began life as a barn sometime in the fifteen century, perched on a small hill south of the Loire. What a splendid beginning to a book about libraries. I love books but I would not consider myself a bibliophile in the true sense of the word. If I see a book I like, personally I prefer second hand hardbacks as they all have a history, Ill automatically buy it. However, seeing the images of public libraries, admittedly somewhat imposing, of for example, The Kings Library in Buckingham House in London, The Laurentian Library designed by Michaelangelo, the book-shaped towers of the Bibliothèque de Francewas a true delight for me. There appear to be various interpretations of the burning of the library but the following seems to be the most likely: The first person blamed for the destruction of the Library is none other than Julius Caesar himself. Caesar wrote of starting the fire in the harbour but neglected to mention the burning of the Library. As for the new library of Alexandria, talks began in the 70s to build it and it finally reopened in October 2002. As an aside, I was delighted to read though that Mangruel continued to have a problem with the dust in his library.

He is the author of numerous non-fiction books such as The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (co-written with Gianni Guadalupi in 1980) and A History of Reading (1996) The Library at Night (2007) and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey: A Biography (2008), and novels such as News From a Foreign Country Came (1991).