The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I once dreamt an entire novel. It was brilliant - a mystery replete with private eyes, conniving crooks, and a plot line convoluted by betrayals and double-agentry galore. It was vivid. I woke up wondering where I was, which almost never happens, groggy and disoriented. It was difficult to gauge my place in reality. This dream had really enveloped my mind. I got out of bed and looked for a notebook so that I could take notes, but as I did so, the memory of the dream collapsed in on itself like a black hole. I tried to write some notes down, but it was gone. Gone. It was absolutely brilliant, and I'll never see it again.
This book is like that. A dream for book lovers, lovers of libraries. Upon finishing, you will remember that it was brilliant, that it was all-engrossing, that you lived in it, you will have faint wisps of memories of pure genius and some of the most beautiful, languorous writing you have ever read, the sparks generated by the book will linger in your mind like latent spots phosphorescing on your eyes after seeing fireworks in the dark.
Thankfully, this dreamscape is subject to recall, since it is all written down. It is, in this way, like a library itself. Re-opening it is a resurrection of ideas - an intellectual miracle. I, for one, will worship at that altar. And this, from Manguel, will be my credo:
It is likely that libraries will carry on and survive, as long as we persist in lending words to the world that surrounds us, and storing them for future readers. So much has been named, so much will continue to be named, that in spite of our foolishness we will not give up this small miracle that allows the ghost of an understanding. Books may not change our suffering, books may not protect us from evil, books may not tell us what is good or what is beautiful, and they will certainly not shield us from the common fate of the grave. But books grant us myriad possibilities: the possibility of change, the possibility of illumination. It may be that there is no book, however well written, that can remove an ounce of pain from the tragedy of Iraq or Rwanda, but it may also be that there is no book, however foully written, that does not allow an epiphany for its destined reader. Robinson Crusoe explains, "It may not be amiss for all people who shall meet my story to make this just observation from it, viz., how frequently in the course of our lives, the evil which in itself we seek most to shun, and which, when we are fallen into it, is the most dreadful to us, is oftentimes the very same means or door of our deliverance, by which alone we can be raised again." This, of course, is not Crusoe speaking, but Defoe - the reader of so many books.
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