Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire, in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. Libraries,” he says, have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been seduced by their labyrinthine logic.” In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries.
Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the complete” libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. 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. Oral memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never writtenManguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel’s mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.
My earliest experiences of interacting with a library were far from galvanic. I remember little besides my mother taking me to the Petworth Library in Washington, D.C., and speckles of her exuberance as she helped me to acquire books. If anything, my most prominent memory of those days, from when I was seven or eight, was of the library as a source of income. During one summer vacation, Mom offered me five dollars to read a book and write a report on it. As her turn to bribery signaled, my parents had some reason to fret that I might not develop into a steadfast reader. But one evening, maybe a year later, my father drove me to the home of his best friend. The room we sat in felt consecrated to books in an altogether more awesome fashion than what I d encountered at the public library.