No one writes more passionately, eloquently, and tenderly about books than Manguel. Few have so many. When he reluctantly left France, where he’d created a magnificent home for his 35,000 volumes from an old barn, it took him and many friends weeks to pack them all. While the “building blocks” of full cartons went into storage in Montreal, Manguel tried to live without them in New York City. Despite wandering his mental library and stopping at bookstalls to visit old friends, he felt bereft—like a tortoise without his shell, or like Quixote after the intervention that left him bookless. Deprived of the tangible volumes, Manguel distracted himself from his grief by composing this “self-obituary” and ten wonderful “digressions” that explore virtual books—unsatisfying because “you cannot truly possess a ghost (though the ghost can possess you)”; the mystery of literary creativity; the fabled lost library of Alexandria; and dictionaries, especially those that slip into the territory of encyclopedias, of which Manguel collected some thirty examples, including his own indispensable Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Far more than digressions, these are witty, illuminating, warm essays. Especially fascinating is Manguel’s meditation on the second commandment. Did the prohibition against graven images extend to artistic creations? Was the jealous God also a “jealous artist”? Manguel’s lament has a happy ending. He writes his last chapter from his new position as Director of the National Library of Argentina.
Packing My Library - Alberto Manguel