Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Library at Night - Alberto Manguel

This book was a reminder to me that no matter what random topic you can think of, someone has probably written a book about it. Manguel's book of essays centers around the theme of libraries. Inspired by his own process for picking and choosing the books for his home library, Manguel explores the idea of libraries as, among other things, space, imagination, island, identity, and home. He is more concerned with how one goes about choosing the books that are important and necessary to them, than he is about the content of the books themselves. He looks at what it means to have a collection of books - the power that books hold and the various systems of organization that they engender. Each of Manguel's chapters is self-contained, and the book does not contain a cohesive theme - other than the overarching idea of libraries. I generally relish books about reading, particulalry ones that introduce me to new books. This is not quite that kind of book - it is more a celebration of the tangible book and a meditation on the meaning of libraries as a single unit with a given purpose, as opposed to the individual books themselves. Manguel's chapters are far ranging - from the history of libraries to the history of censorship, psychological analyses of what our collections say about us as individuals and as societies, the secrets that libraries hold while also being full of the answers to unlocking all sorts of mysteries. My public library card is one of my most important possessions, and I enjoy visiting people's homes and looking through their personal collections. Libraries do say so much about us - what we love, what we value, and ultimately, who we are. I found myself amazed over and over at the creativity in this book - it made me look at libraries and books in many varied ways, and appreciate that even though I will never even read all the books in my own home, there is still tremendous value in having them all here together.

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