Friday, October 13, 2006

Manguel's library

"In any of the pages of any of my books may lie a perfect account of my own secret experience of the world."

The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel.

At its heart, it is a meditation on knowledge and memory, on the links between the two, on the limits of each. For Manguel, the library is the "emblem of man's power to act through thought." More even than that, it is a "monument intended to defeat death, which, as poets tell us, puts an end to memory."


As in The History [of Reading], the narrative is deftly leavened with literary anecdotes. There is the Czech librarian who runs after the retreating German army, insisting that they return the books they have borrowed. There are the secret libraries of the inmates of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. There are the Colombian peasants who refuse to return their copy of The Iliad: "They explained that Homer's story exactly reflected their own: It told of a war-torn country in which mad gods willfully decide the fate of humans who never know exactly what the fighting is about, or when they will be killed." There is the librarian Mrs. Calloway, the terror of Eudora Welty's childhood. "You could take out two books at a time and two books only," Welty remembered. "This applied as long as you were a child and also for the rest of your life."

October 15–21, 2006, is Semaine des bibliothèques publiques, coinciding with library week in several other provinces, all part of Canadian Library Month.


Stefanie said...

Oh my gosh! I love Manguel! i didn't know he had a new book out. Now I have an excuse to go to the bookstore, not that I ever need one :)

patricia said...

I read about this book in last weekend's Globe.

I can't WAIT to get my hands on this one.

I'm gonna treat myself when all my work is done. Whenever that is...sigh...