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The Library at Night
New Haven, CT : Yale University Press, 2008
Z721 .M25 2008
Alberto Manguel's The History of Reading, an "awe-inspiring" work of "erudition" (Times Literary Supplement), received the Medicis Prize. The Library at Night, a beautifully rendered meditation on the meaning of libraries through history, from Alexandria through the virtual library of Google, is his most important book since then. A humanist's journey, The Library at Night asks why we insist on collecting books and putting them on shelves, alphabetizing them or defiantly using other systems of organization, all of them "arbitrary."
The book starts with the personal - Manguel's own library, which he created in a fifteenth-century barn near the Loire Valley, an idyllic room where knowledge and memory are deeply entwined. Manguel's favorite time to be there is at night, when "the world can be comfortably reimagined" - though he is quick to tell us that Montaigne refused to dwell in his library at night.
In the course of this volume, Manguel looks at libraries from fifteen distinct perspectives; there are chapters on the library as shadow; the library as imagination; the library as chance. In "The Library as Myth," Manguel conjures the Tower of Babel, which he considers a library of tongues, and the archetypal library of volumes in Alexandria about which so much is unknown. In "The Library as Shape," Manguel discusses the library from an architectural perspective, taking such examples as the Berlin library designed by Norman Foster that is shaped like a skull and known as "The Brain" and the monumental French library inspired by the ruins of ancient Rome. In "The Library as Survival," Manguel tells the haunting tale of the Sholem Aleichem Library in Poland, where books were saved from the Nazis even though their readers perished. Manguel writes of "memory libraries," censored libraries, and libraries of books never written, such as Lovecraft's Necronomicon.
Including wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel's mind, memory, and prodigious knowledge of books and civilizations.
Quoted from dustjacket.