Nattens bibliotek

by Alberto Manguel

Other authorsMargareta Eklöf
Paper Book, 2007



Call number



Stockholm : Ordfront, 2007


Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire, in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. "Libraries," he says, "have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I've been seduced by their labyrinthine logic." In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries. Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the "complete" libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought-the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral "memory libraries" kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written-Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel's mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.… (more)

Media reviews

The Library at Night, fortunately, is more than a tour of the microcosm contained in Manguel's converted barn. Its fondness for leathery bindings and its fussy annoyance about the 'evil white scabs' of price-stickers slimily glued to book jackets soon give way to a crusading defence of the library
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as a mental sanctuary, a repository of memory, the only kind of home that has any emotional value for Manguel the deracinated cosmopolitan.
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4 more
Manguel beschrijft de vele facetten en problemen van het verzamelen, zowel voor de particuliere verzamelaar als voor de professionele bibliothecaris. Wie het boek van Alberto Manguel leest, maakt een boeiende en interessante reis door de boekenwereld van vele eeuwen. Boeiende beschrijvingen,
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doortrokken met anekdotes die in Manguels fabelachtige geheugen liggen opgeslagen. Ik raad iedereen die meer dan honderd boeken heeft aan dit boek te kopen en te lezen
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De bibliotheek bij nacht is een boek over de manieren waarop de mens door de eeuwen heen boeken heeft verzameld en bibliotheken heeft vormgegeven. Manguel is niet alleen geïnteresseerd in geschiedenis en architectuur, maar ook in de psychologie van de bibliothecaris, waarbij hij volop ruimte biedt
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aan anekdotes die ergens in zijn fabelachtige geheugen lagen opgeslagen („Ik denk in citaten”).
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Den spränglärde Alberto Manguel har skrivit en faktaspäckad bibliotekshistoria med poetiska och en del humoristiska och tragikomiska inslag. Om dock, som sagt, alltför välfylld
Manguels bok har den där sällsynta kombinationen av lätthet och tyngd, oväntade infall och uppfordrande eftertanke.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tututhefirst
This is a book that is almost impossible to do justice to in a review. It should be required reading for all bibliophiles, and certainly in library schools. A luscious book about libraries: ancient, modern, imagined, real, paper, stone, virtual, digital, scrolled, rolled, bound, shelved, piled,
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cataloged, but always there for generations to relish, to wallow in, to dream about and in, to build, to burn, to own, to borrow from, to discover, to remember, to organize or leave alone.

Manguel is well read, has lived in (by his count) 6 countries and has books in a myriad of languages. His classical references, along with his easy acceptance of the possibilities of the WEB as a library make this a fascinating read. He examines the library as (a separate chapter for each) Myth, Order, Space, Power, Shadow, Shape, Chance, Workshop, Mind, Island, Survival, Oblivion, Imagination, Identity and Home. There are so many quotes I noted in my notebook, I could almost publish another book. Here are just a few:

The Library as Myth:

" Every reader exists to ensure for a certain book a modest immortality. Reading is, in this sense, a ritual of rebirth." pg. 28

The Library as Order - here's one I can really relate to, and am still struggling with - how to arrange the books in one's library:

"For several weeks, I unpacked the hundreds of boxes that had, until then, taken up the whole of the dining-room, carried them into the empty library and then stood bewildered among teetering columns of books that seemed to combine the vertical ambition of Babel with the horizontal greed of Alexandria. For almost three months I sifted through these piles, attempting to create a kind of order, working from early in the morning to very late at night." pg. 41.

The Library as Space:

"It has always been my experience that, whatever groupings I choose for my books, the space in which I plan to lodge them, necessarily reshapes my choice and, more important, in no time proves too small for them and forces me to change my arrangement. pg 66.

The Library as Shadow:

"Every library is exclusionary, since its selection, however vast, leaves outside its walls endless shelves of writing that, for reasons of taste, knowledge, space and time, have not been included." pg. 107.

The Library as Island:

"Our society accepts the book as a given, but the act of reading--once considered useful and important, as well as potentially dangerous and subversive--is now condescendingly accepted as a pastime, a slow pastime that lacks efficency and does not contribute to the common good." p. 223.

The Library as Survival:

"...books can sometimes help us phrase our questions, but they do not necessarily enable us to decipher the answers. Through reported voices and imagined stories, books merely allow us to remember what we have never suffered and have never known." pg. 247.

The Library as Oblivion:

"I have no feeling of guilt regarding the book I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days." pg. 254.

and finally the Library as Home:

"As we wander among our books, picking at random a volume from the shelves and leafing through it, the pages either astound us by the difference from our own experience or comfort us with their similitude." pg. 308

This is one read I will go return to again and again.
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LibraryThing member bell7
I so enjoyed this book, an homage to libraries of all sorts - personal, public, national, and even imaginary. Each chapter is almost an essay in its own right, though Manguel often builds on thoughts from one to the next. This book was as much over my head when it came to literature as Stephen
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Hawking's [A Brief History of Time] was over my head in science (and I was an English major!). Manguel's erudition often intimidated me, yet he is never stuffy. His musings become an interesting mix of philosophy, history, and literary criticism that made me wish my mental library was a little closer to his so that I could follow more of his thoughts. I most loved the book when he was meandering, talking about personal libraries or love of books, and I wish the book was my own so I could underline passages or revisit it whenever I like.
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LibraryThing member kant1066
Alberto Manguel is one of those writers you will eventually encounter if you like books about books, the history of libraries, and the sociology and culture of reading in general. Perhaps these subjects come naturally to someone with a 30,000 volume library, located at his home just south of the
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Loire and made of a reconstructed and expanded centuries-old presbytery and barn. It is with this physical location that Manguel begins his journey into the phenomenologies of reading and most everything else one can associate with collections of books.

Well-known characters in the history of literacy make repeated appearances between the pages: the Library at Alexandria, the Tower of Babel, and of course Manguel's own impressive collection. With short, episodic chapters with titles like "Library as Myth," "Library as Order," and "Library as Mind," he looks at many of the topics of perennial interest to book lovers: censorship, the numerous ways of organizing a library, books as spiritual nourishment, and even the library as a tool of power. Manguel also shares a habit of my own - creating connections between the ideas of different books simply because of their physical proximity with one another, though "Library as Stochastic Syncretism" didn't make the editorial cut.

His admiration, however, can turn into an awkward kind of fetish, which can sometimes try one's patience. The vast number of media available on the Internet also seems to turn him into a suspicious Luddite, but I suppose many of us have unfortunately come to expect that opinion from someone like Manguel; I personally much prefer "real" books, though I would be one of the first to admit the convenience and advantages of e-books.

Some of the readers that gave this book a lower rating seem to have been disappointed because this isn't a systematic, linear history, but instead is rather topical and roaming in style. This is not the formal, academic account that some may have expected; they certainly exist, but the audience for Manguel is different. It's much more of a meditative, contemplative sociology of libraries and the reading culture. However, for a relatively small book, Manguel manages to conjure all the avuncular charm he can. "Charm" really is the word that garners this book a fifth star. These are not ideas cynically passed on by someone only barely familiar with them; Manguel lives, loves, and breathes books. If you're looking for a passionate advocate of reading, you can hardly go wrong with "The Library at Night." Manguel is truly a faithful and knowledgeable cicerone.
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LibraryThing member vicminish
For every reader who has had a near mystical experience upon entering the door of a handsome library and gazing upon the stacks, this book will help you find a kindred soul. The Library at Night is a series of essays that brings to life why we are facinated, enthrallled, and overjoyed by
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In fifteen essays and interspersed with well selected photographs and drawings, Manguel develops how the idea, or reality of the library, shapes how we think about our personal and collective identity. The Library, Manguel says, provides order for our world while at the same time offering a place of adventure. It stands as a reminder of our grandest hopes and aspirations while reminding us of our smallness. The Library at Night is a welcome edition for every bibliophile.
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LibraryThing member jbeckhamlat
Pensive rumination on books and libraries, great documentation, humorous to serious, esoterica on the people-book relations. Thoughtful Luddite-scented warnings grounded in precedent.
LibraryThing member JollyContrarian
Alberto Manguel's The Library At Night is a curious confection: ostensibly a love letter to bookishness, it rejoices in collections of books and their owners through many prisms; how they're collected, how they can be arranged (as many different ways as you like), how they represent knowledge, time
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or space - even how the space they occupy can express the personality or idiosyncrasy of their collector.

It will instantly appeal to those, like me, who aspire to have their own "real" library one day (I am hoping mine evolves from its current status as a mere collection of books on a few dusty shelves, though I don't know - and this is one aspect Manguel doesn't delve into - what it takes for a merely juvenile collection of books to matriculate to a mature library).

Manguel also describes libraries through the content of the books they hold, and his range is eclectic, from Greek poets, Arab philosophers and Jewish philanthropists to Anglo-Saxon fantasists like Shelley and, memorably, Stoker. Each new vista builds a new perspective, but curiously after these multiple shafts of light, while one is well illuminated, the general impression is no more specific than that libraries - physical libraries - are pretty neat and we'd be worse off without them.

Which, for a while, made me ponder what the point of the book really was. After all, who could disagree with that?

But then it occurred to me, as surely it did to Manguel, that *we* could, in the same way we've, collectively, disagreed that it's strictly necessary to have a record collection or a even a television any more. Books may not have succumbed quite so easily to the digital ether as did music or film - yet - but there's no reason to suppose that state of affairs is irreversible, and if dear old Amazon would kindly (!) sort out its Kindle supply chain, we might yet shortly see a precipitous decline.

Manguel's subtext is that this would be a frightful outcome. He is certainly more equivocal about digital libraries than he is about physical ones, and sees the advent of the electronic book as a threat to the legitimacy and, possibly, longevity of his bibliophilia. For what good are batty old books, occupying acres of floor-space, however splendid the architecture, when you can have millions of volumes on a portable hard drive?

This issue Manguel only really addresses obliquely, and many of his arguments to counter this position are fatuous (especially as regards the durability of electronic information). The gating issue will be whether les gens can be persuaded to curl up with a Kindle rather than a book. I haven't seen one yet, so I'm yet to be persuaded, and that question alone might save the library's bacon. But otherwise the digital realm solves many of the drawbacks (like an optimistic computer programmer, I suppose he would call them "features") of physical libraries that Manguel documents, such as their physical space and susceptibility to combustion. Such as their inherent need to be ordered one way, no matter how cleverly, to the exclusion of all others. Such as the extreme limitations they impose on the actual retrieval of information (imagine how powerful it would be to be able to Google search the text of an entire library. With a digital library, you can).

All told, Manguel adopts a narrow concept of the value of a library, suitable for dinner parties and night time expeditions, but which won't be familiar to the younger generation who have grown up with Google. Though I am sure he would hotly dispute it, I suspect Manguel would emphasise the space, spirit and idiosyncrasy of a library over its actual, textual content; he would accentuate the intellectual statement a library makes over the intellectual statements contained within it; he would value a book's spine as much as he would the pages bound by it. There is a place for that view - to a certain degree, I share it: I like visitors to my house to see my collection of books, which one day may be a library, and I don't expect them to open any of them.

But when using it in anger, when studying or writing; when I need to quickly find what I am looking for, my physical collection can irritate me intensely. At those points - real ones for genuine scholars, you would think - Manguel's cosy view seems Luddite and hopelessly outdated. For professional library users - as opposed to literate bon vivants - the Google revolution will bring only positive change to what used to be a rather painful and time-consuming endeavour.

Whilst this remains a heartfelt and warmly written elegy, it remains likely that, before long, its subject will be a bygone age. We will have to find new ways to represent our learning. The web is already generating them: perhaps Alberto Manguel should set aside his scepticism and sign up to LibraryThing, and catalogue his books there. Wonders never cease.
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LibraryThing member datrappert
Manguel's musings about libraries and related matters are, as is to be expected from this most genial and educated of writers, wide ranging and fascinating. I especially enjoyed the anecdotes and the stories about Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinian writer who Manguel knew, and whom he seems
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most to resemble in his effortless erudition. I envy both Manguel's writing and his life--such as sitting at nighttime beneath the trees outside his French home discussing imaginary books and libraries with his friends. Could there be a better life? Still, when all is said and done, as enjoyable as this book is, it isn't quite in the same league as his A History of Reading, so I have withheld one star--and I'm already feeling guilty about it!
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LibraryThing member Bibliotecaboy
A fine book that is well written and a pleasure to read. It deals with the different ideas and concepts of what a Library is - the Library as Space, as Power, as Order etc. A book for all who love libraries, books and ideas.
LibraryThing member KrisR
Alberto Manguel understands you.

He knows that you look at your shelves at night, remembering a favorite passage, or how you acquired a book, as your gaze moves across titles on spines in the moonlight.

He sympathizes with your attempts to figure out new ways to organize your books, a task that
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becomes more urgent and, at the same time, more impossible as time passes and your collection grows outside the spatial boundaries of your shelves, or perhaps even of your home.

He understands your frustration when you realize that you have forgotten books that you already have read, or that you remember specific passages or illustrations, but can't remember the book they come from.

He accepts your practice of looking at books at friends' and acquaintances' houses, scanning titles and analyzing organizational schemas to glean some clues about their owners' likes, dislikes, even their identity.

He understands you because he is also a passionate bibliophile. He openly admits his own habits and foibles around books. And he's made a career out of writing books about books for people who love books.

In The Library at Night, Manguel starts with his personal project - to oversee the renovation of a 15th-century barn, south of the river Loire, to house his own library. Once you shake off the envy (a 15th-century barn as a personal library! renovating it to your specifications! in France!!!), you can accompany Manguel on his thematic exploration of the meanings of libraries across history - personal libraries as well as public libraries. Manguel has organized each chapter around a specific function or theme connected to libraries - The Library as Myth, The Library as Order, The Library as Chance, The Library as Oblivion, etc. He studies each theme from many perspectives - his personal experience, historical accounts and literary evidence, illustrations, quotes and many wonderful anecdotes.

I am not including any specific examples of the stories he tells, since part of the joy of this book is in being surprised when you turn a page, alternating with feeling a sense of familiarity with Manguel's expressing a feeling or experience that you share. Be warned though - this is the sort of book that leads you to follow friends, family members, and colleagues around, as you say excitedly, "Just listen to this!"

My main criticism of the book is that the reproduction of the images, especially photographs, is not the best. On the other hand, Yale University Press has created a book that readers can afford to buy for their own libraries, even if they have already spent the majority of their last paycheck on other books.

Highly recommended for bibliophiles everywhere, especially if they read it at night.
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LibraryThing member armillarygal
I rarely buy a hardcover book, but this one I want to make sure lasts and doesn't disintegrate when I go back to reread it many times in the future. This is the book I've been looking for for the past seven or eight years. I thought I was going to have to write it myself, but I could never have
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done justice with poetic language and far-ranging experience to the subject as Manguel does.
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LibraryThing member kristenn
This works particularly well as a bedside book, to read just a chapter at a time rather than all at once. And although it's interesting, it is nevertheless the sort of subject that helps you get to sleep. (In a good way, really.)

I flagged many interesting bits in the first 100 pages or so, then
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basically nothing for the middle, and a few again at the very end. I think this is in part because the subject matter inevitably begins to feel repetitive.

I made a note in the beginning that the introduction was remarkably cynical but in backtracking I can't tell why. I loved the incredible amount of detail that went into this. He recounts not just how he arranged his childhood books but many of their titles. There are many debate-provoking assertions from others, such as Virginia Woolf's argument that one can love learning or love reading but not both. And of course it's mostly full of interesting historical factoids, such as the irony of there being no record of the library of Alexandria itself -- the layout, the architecture, the classification system. Also a fascinating bit on the influence of light vs darkness on human interaction and on reading, particularly as an either/or.

I most enjoyed the discussions of how to arrange a collection. And Paul Masson is my new cataloging hero. But there are many more substantial sections, such as on censorship and cultural memory. Very re-readable, I think.
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LibraryThing member TCBard
This book will be irresistible to any member of Library Thing. As a sample:

The rooms in which writers (that subspecies of readers) surround themselves with the materials they need for their work acquire an animal quality, like that of a den or a nest, holding the shape of their bodies and offering
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a container to their thoughts. Here the writer can make his own bed among the books, be as monogamous or polygamous a reader as he wishes, choose an approved classic or an ignored newcomer, leave arguments unfinished, start on any page opened by chance, spend the night reading out loud so as to hear his own voice read back to him, in Virgil's famous words, under "the friendly silence of the soundless moon."
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LibraryThing member snash
The book is a series of musings about libraries, their organization, their physical housing, what's included, what's omitted etc and what they mean to the individual and society. That part I found interesting but it also felt like the entire book was a platform for the author to show off his
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knowledge and familiarity with literature, particularly foreign and from antiquity.
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LibraryThing member Osbaldistone
I must preface this review by saying that, 1) I am an avid book collector and reader, and 2) I tend to prowl around the house (and my library in particular) late at night after the family are all asleep.

I can’t imagine anyone who has grown, or dreams of growing, a personal library not loving this
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book. It’s like sitting and chatting with a wise, engaging friend about a mutual love of books and libraries. Manguel writes the words, I speak them in my head, but they feel like they came right out of my own heart. I won’t try to describe these essays in any detail. I know I will read them again and again and they will never grow stale. Suffice it to say that, when it comes to books about books, it may not be possible to beat “The Library at Night”.

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LibraryThing member hailelib
An interesting ramble through libraries ancient and modern, large and small, real and imaginary. Full of interesting vignettes, Manguel kept my interest and this book went quickly. In the end, though, I find myself unsure of his point or even if there is one...
LibraryThing member Melissarochell
Impacted with the most delightful of thoughts and information, every time I'd thought that I'd read the best of it, Manguel would surprise me with something even better. His passion for books is inarguable. His unique, insightful views are perfectly interwoven with intriguing historical references.
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With each element strengthening the last, I couldn't help but smile as I read this.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Contemplation of his own library built from the ruins of a French barn leads Alberto Manguel to ponder the history and philosophy of libraries. Classification, architecture and design, selection and censorship, and many more aspects of libraries and the books they contain are illustrated by
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examples both personal and historical. Aby Warburg and the library that resembled a map of his mind, to Jorge Luis Borges, who was blind when he was appointed director of the Buenos Aires National Library, to the clandestine children's library in the Birkenau concentration camp – all have something to teach us about the nature and importance of books and libraries. This book could be used as a textbook for courses in the history and philosophy of libraries and librarianship, yet it will appeal to all readers with a love for books and libraries.

We pick our way down endless library shelves, choosing this or that volume for no discernible reason; because of a cover, a title, a name, because of something someone said or didn't say, because of a hunch, a whim, a mistake, because we think we may find in this book a particular tale or character or detail, because we believe it was written for us, because we believe it was written for everyone except us and we want to find out why we have been excluded, because we want to learn, or laugh, or lose ourselves in oblivion.


The fact is that a library, whatever its size, need not be read in its entirety to be useful; every reader profits from a fair balance between knowledge and ignorance, recall and oblivion.
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LibraryThing member MM_Jones
A collection of essays forming a meditation on the meaning of libraries throughout history. Most were totally delightful, I especially enjoyed the essay "The Library as Chance". It is easy to take libraries and the availability of books for granted. These essays really makes of appreciate the
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effort involved. "Immensely generous my books make no demand on me but offer all kinds of illuminations."
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
In my fool hardy youth, when my friends were dreaming of heroic deeds in the realms of engineering and law, finance and national politics, I dreamt of becoming a librarian.

I did not, but have always felt safe there, even when I walked into the bottom of a concrete staircase and was nearly knocked
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unconscious. There's unfortunately something mercenary about me. I love used bookstores more. I also leer at the books of other people when I am in their homes.

Manguel spends excessive time with the physical aspects and functions of libraries. There are dabs of criticism, almost poetic but I wanted more. I want someone to capture the way I feel when approaching Powell's or The Strand.
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LibraryThing member Eoin
A book about libraries and reading is a bit of an easy mark, but this one was done well. The prose is lucid and familiar, the subject is broad across time and place, and the curious facts and incidental stories are frequent. My kind of book.
LibraryThing member MarthaJeanne
The author seems a bit full of himself. I own the books I do because I enjoy them, not to impress others about how literate I am.

I have bookcases in the rooms we live in, not a separate library with a wall from a medieval castle. Well, good for him, but it makes relating to what he writes very
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difficult. I gave up fairly early.
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LibraryThing member literateowl
Maybe biblio fanatic for some but this guy is a King of language.
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
A series of essays about libraries--about what they mean to us, how they are organized, what they say about us. Pleasant reading full of history of a literary sort.
LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
Like 'A History of Reading', I was delighted by every moment of this book. I happily wandered from anecdote to anecdote, relishing constant feeling of joy. That is the primary feeling of this book - joy in libraries, joy in knowledge, joy in the unexpected and powerful things that happen when books
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gather together.
Just lovely.
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LibraryThing member Kellswitch
An interesting series of essays reflecting on the nature of libraries, past, present and fictional with each chapter covering a different concept of what a library can be and the history behind how they came to be, what makes a library a library, what they mean to the author, history and to society
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as a whole, how they came into being and can be so easily lost.
Overall this was a very easy book to read, the authors writing style is for the most part very natural and very approachable until the last few chapters when he starts to do more listing of books, libraries and authors vs. writing about them and I felt that at the end the concept had been stretched a bit to far and the last few chapters were more padding, but even with that I found his ideas and experiences fascinating and thought provoking. I learned some knew things about books, libraries and their roles and even though I didn’t agree with every thing he comes up with it made me do some serious thinking about them and I always enjoy that.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

341 p.; 24 cm


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