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Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions Hardcover – March 20, 2018
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“Packing My Library [alternates] intimate chapters that make up an ‘elegy’ for his library with 10 masterly digressions on his life as a reader and lover of books. . . . Manguel’s intellect and enthusiasm are on full display as he cites a dazzling number of books in many languages, dilating on an astounding number of topics.”—Ernest Hilbert, Wall Street Journal
“The enviably multilingual Alberto Manguel . . . reflects on his peripatetic life in Packing My Library, . . . an excellent [book] about books.”—Michael Dirda, Washington Post
BBC BOOK OF THE WEEK, SPRING 2018
“Slight but poignant. . . In its exploration of the symbiotic relationship between life and literature, the biblio-memoir would appear to be a rallying cry in the affirmative.”—Lucy Scholes, Financial Times
“One of the world’s greatest readers, whose finest work has often been about the writing of others. . . has produced a book —a slim, fragmentary meditation on the power of reading and the importance of libraries.”—Claire Armitstead, The Guardian
“The author brings a fresh hopefulness to the enterprise of books and reading. Vintage Manguel—a pleasure for his many readers and admirers.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Manguel is an easily trusted guide in the world of books, and here too he moves comfortably across the many related subjects, with some interesting and thoughtful digressions and reflections.”—M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review
“If [Manguel] cannot be a Dante, he can at least be our Virgil. It’s an ambitious goal – to project an unforgettable image of himself escorting us companionably ‘within the model of that which we attempt to reproduce in words and images.’ And he has succeeded brilliantly.”—Ron Slate, On the Seawall
“In his latest work, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions—the title evokes Walter Benjamin’s famous 1931 essay on book collecting—Manguel has arrived at the ideal format for his divagating thoughts.”—Dana Hansen, Literary Review of Canada
“I bet in his dreams Alberto Manguel never leaves his beloved library, the disassembling and packing of which gives title to this brilliant book. . . . I doubt the loss of books has inspired a more beautiful work. Read this book — and hold onto it.”—Luis Clemens, senior editor for diversity at NPR News, NPR’s Best Books of 2018
"The area which Alberto Manguel has mapped for himself is that of the eros of reading. . . . He is a Don Juan of libraries."—George Steiner, The Guardian
"Manguel vaults over the traditional fences of genre, literary history, and discipline with breathtaking virtuosity. He is the Montaigne de nos jours and, as regards this latest effort, if they put another rover on Mars they should call it 'Manguel.'"—John Sutherland, University College London
"Alberto Manguel is a wanderer among books, immensely curious in such an intriguing way that he lets his readers easily discover the fruits of his curiosity."—Roberto Calasso
Alberto Manguel is a great reader. His entire oeuvre testifies to this. In Packing My Library, Manguel continues his celebration of the book as object, conduit, and talisman. This elegy for his library, including digressions on citizenship, dictionaries, god’s speech, and creativity, shows a profound appreciation for the shibboleths and affinities of the bibliophile. A joyful testament!—Jeff Deutsch, Seminary Co-op
About the Author
- Publisher : Yale University Press; 1st edition (March 20, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 160 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0300219334
- ISBN-13 : 978-0300219333
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #217,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Almost immediately, however, he cautions that much as people might care about their books, both people and books are indentured to impermeable limits. The principal limit, he says is the words themselves. He contends that as human tools, they are inadequate to grasp “meaning,” the endlessly illusive creature that “lies precisely beyond the pale of words, just on the other side of language.”
This fuels the frustrating tension between devotion to books and learning and the frailties of the medium evident among the twenty-one essays of Packing My Library. He writes admiringly of dictionaries, those arsenals of the words that while oh-so-close, are never quite up to their mission. To illustrate his point, he notes the retelling of dreams where the words can never fully capture the look, feel or implications of the dream itself.
Still, Manguel celebrates the genius of authors and they’re good-faith work, praising it because it “preserves something which otherwise would die away with the flesh and bones of the writer.” Manguel, the Director of the National Library of Argentina, clearly glories in books and libraries no matter how imperfectly suited to inspire, excite, improve, raise doubt or unravel and reveal the answers to timeless questions.
Near the end of this quite fine book, he notes an inscription found twenty-one centuries ago above the entrance to a library. It said: “Clinic of the Soul.” While likely anathema to jealous clergy then and now, these are still wise if imperfect “Manguel-Ian” words for people in their libraries and among books wherever you find them.
The book is actually a moving and remarkable conversation between the writer and the reader, who discuss life and books and their magical, symbiotic relationship.
For me, the book became an intimate dialogue with a friend. (My part of the dialog consisted in underlining sections especially relevant to me and in providing notes for future reference.)
Anyone who has ever created and then moved a personal library, regardless of how small or seemingly eccentric, will feel a strong bond with the author.
For me, reading the book was a pleasure and an especially curious one given the differences between the author and myself.
Perhaps it is true, after all, what psychologists and anthropologists tell us (and human nature demonstrates) that what we have in common with one another counts much more than our differences. The things we share bind us together; in our new connected world, distances, and to a large extent even languages, no longer separate us.
The framing story here is his telling of having to pack up his personal library from his home in France and put it into storage. As he described the memories conjured up by going through his collection, I was greatly moved. Though not quite as massive as his, I have a very large collection of books myself. I have been very fortunate in that I have never had to leave any of my books behind. I suppose I would survive it but I hate to imagine it. Mr. Manguel has given me a role model in the experience.
The books he comes across in his packing sends him off into various “digressions”. They also cover a wide variety of interesting topics. One of my favorites was his commentary on the power of words as he looks at the story of the golem.
In the end, this is a short book but filled with powerful ideas and great stories. As a reader and bibliophile, I wouldn’t pass this one by.
Top reviews from other countries
This is a small book of 144 pages, but it is filled with learning, history, literature, and wisdom that one can read it about once a week for the rest of one’s life. Manguel packs ten digressions into his short tale, but every digression is a lovely detour into a different, yet familiar, literary terrain. In his digressions, Manguel discusses man’s desire for identity and affirmation, justice, the purpose of the novel, the dictionary, and dreams – among many other lively reflections of things that affect our literary mind. This is what he says of reading: 'The discovery of the art of reading is intimate, obscure, secret, almost impossible to explain, akin to falling in love, if you will forgive the maudlin comparison.'
Manguel explores what it is that makes a story important or even relevant, and how much originality is left in the literary world for the rest of us to mine? From Kafka, to Dante, to Cervantes, and Meyrinck, Manguel takes us through a dizzy, exhilarating, and joyous ride into the magic kingdom of books and libraries. May we all be lost in them and never be found again. That might be Paradise.