Monday, March 03, 2014

Booknote: The Library At Night

Manguel, Alberto, The Library at Night.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-300-13914-3.

This is a beautiful and pleasant book book that sings the praises of libraries, books, and those who work in them and use them in an erudite and elegant way. If you are feeling down from bad news of library closings or not getting enough funding, or are you just sick and tired of the next "trend" in libraries making it sound like libraries are dead fossils, then toss all that away and curl up comfortably with a serving of your favorite beverage and this book.

Manguel employs rich language and imagery to create a book that is not just to be read. It is one to be savored. In a time when librarians think everything will go online and some even scoff at the idea of physical libraries (you know, the ones who see themselves more as "information professionals" or other fancy non-librarian title), Manguel shows us the significance and importance of libraries through the ages and in all forms, even the electronic ones, with reverence and respect. If you are a librarian,  you will likely embrace this book. If you've used a library and/or you have one of your own, this book will bring warm feelings and evoke great memories.

Overall, this is one I definitely recommend. I am giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

Books I've read with similar appeal that I have read (links go to my reviews):

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Additional reading notes: I found myself making notes as I read and jotting down passages and quotes to remember. If interested, you can feel free to read on.

I loved this image:

"I like to imagine that, on the day after my last, my library and I will crumble together, so that even when I am no more I'll still be with my books" (37). 

It is a very romantic ideal, to take your books with you in eternity. I think I would that for some books, but let the rest in my personal library be sold or given to friends and family so that, as another writer I read once said, others may experience the joys of reading and discovery in those books as I did. 

Even Manguel knows:

"And yet, both libraries-- the one of paper and the electronic one-- can and should coexist. Unfortunately, one is too often favoured to the detriment of the other" (77). 

Unfortunately, even a good number of librarians favor one to the detriment of the other. Let's not even go into the many problems of electronic record preservation, which Manguel does discuss well in the book by the way. Further on, Manguel writes,

"In comparing the virtual library to the traditional one of paper and ink, we need to remember several things: that reading often requires slowness, depth, and context; that our electronic technology is still fragile and that, since it keeps changing, it prevents us many times from retrieving what was once stored in now superseded containers; that leafing through a book or roaming through shelves is an intimate part of the craft of reading and cannot be entirely replaced by scrolling down a screen, any more than real travel can be replaced by travelogues and 3-D gadgets" (79). 

On the power of readers:

"The power of readers lies not in their ability to gather information, in their ordering and cataloguing capability, but their gift to interpret, associate and transform their reading" (91).

Libraries as subversive and even immortal:

"Libraries, in their very being, not only assert but also question the authority of power. As repositories of history or sources for the future, as guides or manuals for difficult times, as symbols of authority past or present, the books in a library stand for more than their collective contents, and have, since the beginning of writing, been considered a threat. It hardly matters why a library is destroyed: every banning, curtailment, shredding, plunder or loot gives rise (at least a ghostly presence) to a louder, clearer, more durable library of the banned, looted, plundered, shredder or curtailed. Those books may no longer be available for consultation, they exist only in the vague memory of a reader or in the vaguer-still memory of tradition and legend, but they have acquired a kind of immortality" (128). 

On why it's good to have a study. Also why I cherish mine:

"A study lend its owner, its privileged reader, what Seneca call euthymia, a Greek word which Seneca explained means 'well-being of the soul,' and which he translated as 'tranquillitas.' Every study ultimately aspires to euthymia. Euthymia, memory without distraction, the intimacy of a reading time-- a secret period in the communal day-- that is what we seek in a private reading space" (188).

Manguel does not that sometimes we can also discover euthymia in the communal space of the public library.

On a library reflecting its owner:

"What makes a library a reflection of its owner is not merely the choice of the titles themselves, but the mesh of associations implied in the choice. Our experience builds on experience, our memory on other memories. Our books build on other books that change or enrich them. . . " (194).

I love that idea. I wonder what associations I would see in the books I've chosen for my personal library.

On readers choosing books to read:

"We pick our way down endless library shelves, choosing this or that volume for no discernible reason: because of a cover, a title, a name, because of something someone said or didn't say, because of a hunch, a whim, a mistake, because we think we may find in this book a particular tale or character or detail, because we believe it was written for us, because we believe it was written for everyone except us and we want to find out why we have been excluded, because we want to learn, or laugh, or lose ourselves in oblivion" (222).

A lot of this sounds just like I do when I choose my next book to read. How do you choose your next book to read. Feel free to comment and let me know.

 On "have you read all these books?"

"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" (254). 

And further on Manguel adds,

"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" (255). 

I think I should use that answer when anybody asks that about my personal library and books.

And finally, a quote, a verse,

"Those who read, those who
          tell us what they read,
Those who noisily turn
         the pages of their books,
Those who have power
         red and black ink,
         and over pictures,
Those are the ones who lead us,
        guide us, show us the way."

--Aztec Codex from 1524, Vatican Archives.

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