Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Alberto Manguel: The Library at Night

Michael Dirda reviews Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night.
Book collectors might be presumed to be among the happiest of mortals. There, in the evening, they sit contentedly in soft easy chairs, beneath pools of warm lamplight, surrounded by their libraries -- row after serried row of beautiful or rare volumes, all the great works of scholarship and the human imagination. Sadly, this cozy vision is usually little more than a daydream, though not for Alberto Manguel. As The Library at Night indicates, he has managed to take every reader's castle in the air and put a foundation under it.

From a psychological viewpoint, most bookmen and women are actually among the more unfortunate sufferers on the wheel of life -- for them there is no respite, no relief, from the insatiate ache of desire. Surrounded by plenty, they hunger for more. Collections are never complete. Unsigned modern firsts really do need to become signed or inscribed. Any merely fine copy suddenly looks dingy when compared to one in mint condition. Moreover, as everyone can attest, the exhilaration of actual possession lasts but a twinkling. The newly acquired treasure is soon slipped onto a bookshelf or even, as the bookcases fill up, into a cardboard box stored in the basement or the attic or the American Self Storage in Kensington, Md. And once in a box, the book can never, ever be found when it's needed. Trust me. I know.
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