Books about books don’t sell well. They’re rarely displayed on the tables at the front of a Borders or Barnes and Noble store. Instead, they’re relegated to a couple of shelves following Z in the literature section.
Yet books about books are abundant, and they’re still being published. It’s a small market, perhaps, but there are still those among us who take great pleasure in and recognize no worthy substitutes for the book.
One of the best writers of books about books is Alberto Manguel, whose latest work is called “The Library at Night.” Born in Argentina, long of Canada and now living in France, Manguel is that rare breed in the modern era — a full-time man of letters. Manguel lives, eats and breathes books. It’s what he does and who he is.
“The Library at Night” is a celebration of libraries — personal and public, big and little, real and mythological. Although he meanders through the history of libraries great and small, Manguel’s most intense passion is reserved for his own amazing library, which he built using a wall that was part of a barn dating to the 15th century.
Sitting among his estimated 30,000 volumes, Manguel waxes poetic: “One book calls to another unexpectedly, creating alliances across different cultures and centuries. . . . My books hold between their covers every story I’ve ever known and still remember, or have now forgotten, or may one day read; they fill the space around me with ancient and new voices.”
A demented book accumulator myself, I relished losing myself in Manguel’s “The Library at Night,” much as I do the literary appreciations of Michael Dirda (“Classics for Pleasure”) and the book-collecting tales of Nicholas Basbanes (“A Gentle Madness”).
A final note: “The Library at Night” is not sitting on any chain bookstore shelves in the greater Las Vegas area. After a fruitless local search, I picked up my copy at Book Soup, an independent bookstore in Los Angeles.