Tyler Malone's Reviews > The Library at Night

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
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's review
Dec 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: lit-crit

Alberto Manguel loves to sit on his ass and read; he also loves to think about how much he sits and reads, or rather how he sits and reads. He thinks about how we all sit and read. Well-traveled, well-read and well-researched, Alberto Manguel writes “The Library at Night” not only from the view point of himself as a reader, but from how own person library in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. From here, a reader is taken east to the Far East, where libraries were once organized by social standing and class, then to Columbia, with its “donkey-libraries”—the BIBLIOBURRIO.

Mr. Manguel claims that in a library, humanity replies to the reader; in life, the detail of words kill us or show us God. A library is where we flourish or expire. More importantly, it is where we imagine when we want a place where memory is kept alive for community to interact with: a community of world travelers or those just down the city block. How to make this knowledge accessible—publically or private—has always been, until Dewey, a puzzle to be solved in dozens of different ways, from the ironically named “Atrium of Freedom”, which was highly contained and restricted to the new Library of Alexander in Egypt, which is massive and circular, but nearly devoid of tomes and their tempting or enlightening texts, as well as the Freie Universität in Berlin, which is built to look like a brain in the most intuitive of German engineering.

The Library at Night makes a reader bask in what we have and what we continue to build to save, but also what we attempt salvage and restore. The book is also a eulogy for all its fallen brethren of books which have been taken by the hands of men or the sands of time from readers. The sacking of Baghdad’s culture this very decade, the books Nazis sent to the flames this last generation, and Alexander’s great library that time itself seemed to have eaten alive, stones and all. Technology, too, is to blame. But my Kindle has given me Nabokov and Innersole, so I will pull that punch. Of all the losses and lamentations of past texts, Alberto Manguel shares a personal moment with his readers than only his library seemed to have known. He enjoys forgetting about his books. He revels in forgetting, just to select something by its spine, a curious title he bought on some adventure, to devour it and recall all the joy it brought him, then to forget about it once more. Reading is the only act where forgetting about something’s importance will only reinforce a future joy. This done again and again eventually changes a reader’s very memory; warps it in some form of addiction, which is to say, reading is the only forgivable vice.

In all the architecture and artistic achievement bound in the books which hopefully fill the library, I thought about how an obtuse theologian once told me that reading was derivative. After hearing this, I was angry, unfocused and incensed. But you know what? He’s right. Reading is derivative. So is life. Day in, day out, we live off yesterday, some more nostalgic than others. When it comes to reading, though, the goal is to find a new way to say what has been said before. And to follow the course of rivers, seeking only personal and wonderful things: the ancient commonsense things. As we do this, the library imposes control over the chaos we catalog.

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