Monday, April 28, 2008

The Collected Reviews of:
The Library At Night

Christine Thomas reviews The Library At Night, a book sure to appeal to bookstore folk (as we're also obsessive collectors and catalogers). An excerpt: Alberto Manguel's new book is a vivaciously erudite justification for society's inexorable efforts to collect, order and store information. Inspired by the library he built in his French home, he explores the myriad levels on which a library functions and how readers interact with and in them.The book is divided into 15 categories, each chapter exploring the library in a different light -- as myth, survival, power, etc. Manguel revisits childhood bookshelves as well as libraries in ancient Egypt, Greece, Arab countries (including the legendary Library of Alexandria) and the personal book collections of Charles Dickens and Manguel's fellow Argentine Jorge Luis Borges (himself a librarian).

The Guardian UK also reviews TLAN, but focuses on a section of the book that will make most bookstore owners and employees cringe: Manguel is old, wise and sad enough to know that the future belongs to the users of the Kindle reading device and to oafish librarians who discard books as landfill after transferring their contents to disks or CD-Roms that may be illegible in a decade. He therefore likens his own library to the coffin of native earth that Dracula carries with him from Transylvania to London.
But wait, then it gets pro-pulp again: It's a good joke, but it's unjust. Milton said that a great book was 'the precious lifeblood of a master spirit': literally an infusion or transfusion of life, not a portable grave in which the undead quietly slumber. Reading, as Manguel knows, is 'a ritual of rebirth', which both invigorates the reader and awakens old books to new life. He shows what he means by describing his dreams of a fluid subliminal library, a place where the hero of Kafka's The Castle sails off in a quest for the Holy Grail on the whaling vessel from Melville's Moby Dick, then after a shipwreck lands on an island where, like Crusoe, he reconstructs civilisation by consulting the three bibles he has salvaged from the wreck. Books jump out of their jackets when Manguel opens them and dance in delight as they make contact with his ingenious, voluminous brain. He is not the keeper of a silent cemetery, but a master of bibliographical revels.

Still not convinced this book is worth picking up? Here are links to reviews in The Washington Post, The LATimes, and an excerpt of the book, care of Random House.