The Library at Night [Alberto Manguel] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth- century. 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 readi. If many bibliophiles will share Alberto Manguel’s assertion that the acquisition and ordering of his library has “kept me sane”, they will also.

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S wift imagined books battling. In a library described in one of his satires, the volumes do not remain on the shelves but hurl themselves across the room in an exchange of insults and fisticuffs, enacting their disagreements by tearing one another’s pages out.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel | The Times

What happens, however, when the lights go out? Those belligerent books probably settle down to make love and breed other books. Writers write because they are compulsive readers and they do so in book-lined rooms. Forget about art imitating life: The Argentinian bibliophile Alberto Manguel, whose books include A History of Reading, is an expert on this snugly closed circle, symbolised by the private library he has installed in a 15th-century barn in the Loire.

Here he sits, preferably at night, with the ‘shapeless universe’ outside expunged by darkness. Warmed by the pools of light that spill th his lamps, he does not even need to read: Although the softly sifting ‘plankton of dust’ shed both by the crinkled pages and his drying skin anticipate a longer sleep, he does not mind.

mmanguel Libraries are storeyed tombs and Manguel is happy to be housed in the funereal stacks. Within his global, multilingual book collection, he can effortlessly travel in both time and space.

The Library at Night

He admits the megalomania of the enterprise: Behind these imperious ventures, and behind Manguel’s life-long scavenging in second-hand shops, lies a desire to demonstrate the unity of phenomena, the indexed connection between disparate experiences and the accessibility of all this lore to a single individual. No wonder God toppled the first skyscraper: InDiderot’s enlightened Encyclopaedia, described by Manguel as ‘an archival and interactive library’, was accused of blasphemy because in its tabulation of all human knowledge it pointedly found no room for religion.


Alphabetising their stock or relying on fractionalised decimals like Dewey, librarians are obsessive classifiers who impose on chaos an order they know to be fictional and false. Their crazed logic makes libraries, as Manguel says, ‘pleasantly mad places’. Carlyle once characterised the old reading room at the British Museum as a psychiatric ward where ‘people in a state of imbecility’ twitched and muttered as they thumbed unreadable tomes. Manguel can seem a little anal and anoraky.

Since I shelve my books associatively, I’m less than engrossed by his worry about whether to place Garcia Lorca under G or L; it’s not surprising to learn that when Manguel was living in Toronto, he crammed extra bookshelves into the bedrooms, corridors and even the bathroom, so that his children complained that ‘they required a library card to enter their own home’.

But The Library at Night, fortunately, is more than a tour of the microcosm contained in Manguel’s converted barn. Its fondness for leathery bindings and its fussy annoyance about the ‘evil white scabs’ of price-stickers slimily glued to book jackets soon give way to a crusading defence of the library as a mental sanctuary, a repository of memory, the only kind of home that has any emotional value for Manguel the deracinated cosmopolitan.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The defence is necessary because libraries like his are now imperilled by their virtual equivalents on the internet. A book read on a screen has dematerialised; we can neither nkght nor love alberro, and if we can’t hold it in our hands how can we absorb it into our minds? As Manguel ruefully observes, the ‘multimedia library’ of the web inverts and potentially erases the universal library of which Renaissance humanists dreamed.

The traditional library was a citadel sacred to the notion of omniscience; the web, by contrast, is ‘the emblem of our ambition of omnipresence’, like a supermarket that boundlessly proliferates in space and deluges the planet with its tacky wares. Manguel librarh 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. It’s a good joke, but it’s unjust.

Milton said that a great book was ‘the precious lifeblood of a master spirit’: 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. The library of Alexandria is destroyed by fire. It was said to contain a copy of every book on Earth.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The world’s oldest surviving book, a woodblock-printed version of The Diamond Sutra, is made in China. Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, invents the printing press.

Forty eight Gutenberg bibles survive. The Vatican library is founded in Rome. It is the oldest public library in Europe, with 1. Project Gutenberg puts the first ebook, the Declaration of Independence, on the internet. The online library now extends to 17, titles. Google establishes the Google Print Initiative, a digitisation of the world’s top copyright libraries.

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