Thursday, September 20, 2018

Alberto Manguel's Many Libraries

Alberto Manguel's new short book is called Packing My Library. The subtitle, "An Elegy and Ten Digressions," hints at the quirky formlessness of the book.  It could as easily have been subtitled merely "An Elegy" or "Twenty-one Digressions." These meditations are bookended at the beginning of the book by Manguel packing up his personal library of some 35,000 volumes in rural France before a move to small apartment in Manhattan, and to Manguel at the end having become director of the National Library of Argentina, thus responsible for another library on an even larger scale. In between these endposts are Manguel's reflections on a lifetime of reading, and on his own relationship with books. He notes at one early point that “my libraries are each a sort of multi-layered autobiographies," and later wonders:
“What quirk made me cluster these volumes into something like the colored countries on my globe? What brought on these associations that seemed to owe their meaning to the faded emotions and a logic whose rules I can now no longer remember? And does my present self reflect that distant haunting? Because if every library is autobiographical, its packing up seems to have something of a self-obituary. Perhaps these questions are the true subject of this elegy."
Further on he notes:  “The books in my library promised me comfort, and also the possibility of enlightening conversations." And occasionally he turns wistful:  “The constancy we seek in life, the repetition of stories that seems to assure us that everything will remain as it was then and is now, is, as we know, illusory. Our fate (Ovid has been telling us this for centuries) is change, our nature is to change.”

Overall this is a fine introspective book about reading and books, and their value not merely to one man but to humanity.

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