“Our society,” he says, “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 efficiency and does not contribute to the common good…. In our society, reading is nothing but an ancillary act, and the great repository of our memory and experience, the library, is considered less a living entity than an inconvenient storage room.” The shelves gather dust.
Read the whole article. It’s a love letter to Manguel’s book, The Library at Night, “a real book, masterfully written and actually about something.” If you don’t have time to read it do what I did and read the good stuff:
Beneath the astonishment conveyed in this brilliantly conceived, elegantly written, elegiac and celebratory meditation, there’s something philosophically deeper. The very big question that Alberto Manguel poses at the outset of The Library at Night sets the tone for the intellectual quest-story that follows. The question is about the meaning of the dynamic relationship between chaos and order that we find everywhere, from the greatest magnitudes — “the starry heavens,” as the philosopher Immanuel Kant called them — to the smallest particulars of our lives.
“Outside theology and fantastic literature,” Manguel says, “few can doubt that the main features of our universe are its dearth of meaning and lack of discernible purpose.” That is, unless you believe in God or Middle-Earth and Mordor, neither the universe nor the evolutionary process proposes an answer to the riddle of human life. “And yet, with bewildering optimism, we continue to assemble whatever scraps of information we can gather in scrolls and books and computer chips, on shelf after library shelf, whether material, virtual or otherwise, pathetically intent on lending the world a semblance of sense and order, while knowing perfectly well that, however much we’d like to believe the contrary, our pursuits are sadly doomed to failure. Why then do we do it?”
I never go to the Library. I buy, beg or borrow all my books. I think I might even hate the Library. But I also think I would love this sad, little, noble book.