Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

by Alberto Manguel


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A best-selling author and world-renowned bibliophile meditates on his vast personal library and champions the vital role of all libraries.

In June 2015 Alberto Manguel prepared to leave his centuries-old village home in France’s Loire Valley and reestablish himself in a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Packing up his enormous, 35,000‑volume personal library, choosing which books to keep, store, or cast out, Manguel found himself in deep reverie on the nature of relationships between books and readers, books and collectors, order and disorder, memory and reading. In this poignant and personal reevaluation of his life as a reader, the author illuminates the highly personal art of reading and affirms the vital role of public libraries.
Manguel’s musings range widely, from delightful reflections on the idiosyncrasies of book lovers to deeper analyses of historic and catastrophic book events, including the burning of ancient Alexandria’s library and contemporary library lootings at the hands of ISIS. With insight and passion, the author underscores the universal centrality of books and their unique importance to a democratic, civilized, and engaged society.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Review

The archbibliophile writes nostalgically of his "last library," the most recent of a succession of collections that have defined him over a lifetime.Now director of the National Library in his native Argentina, a post formerly held by Jorge Luis Borges, Manguel (Curiosity, 2015, etc.) professes to a certain discomfort at public libraries: he values the materiality of having one's own books in which there is no guilt taken in writing in the margins. He wholly endorses Petrarch's observation, "I feel that I have never enough books." Departing from Walter Benjamin's famed essay on "unpacking the library," Manguel writes of the heartbreaking challenge of boxing up the 35,000 volumes he housed in the Loire Valley of France, "a fantastic creature made up of the several libraries built up and then abandoned, over and over again, throughout my life." Benjamin had to abandon his own library under more fraught circumstances, a step ahead of the Nazis, but that does not diminish the elegiac quality of Manguel's slender book, made up of a main essay punctuated by 10 "digressions" that take in love of the book among peoples of the book, Shakespeare, Callimachus, and other tropes of bibliophilia and bibliomania. Borges figures, of course, and his spirit is always close to the main text as well, especially as Manguel takes up residence in the library in Buenos Aires and finds himself not just the book lover and writer of old, but also "accountant, technician, lawyer, architect, electrician, psychologist, diplomat, sociologist, specialist in union politics, technocrat, cultural programmer, and, of course, administrator of actual library matters." Add philosopher to that list, for the author closes with a meditation on what books have to say about how our lives are lived and governed, with a reminder that they "are reminders of better things, of hope and consolation and compassion." The tropes are well-worn, but the author brings a fresh hopefulness to the enterprise of books and reading.Vintage Manguel—a pleasure for his many readers and admirers.

From the Publisher

Alberto Manguel is a kind of global Reader Laureate: he is reading’s champion, its keenest student and the most zealous proselytiser. . . if you value these particular pleasures already, you may find yourself the ideal reader for Alberto Manguel.”—Daniel Hahn, Spectator

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


“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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300219333
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 786,365
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Customer Reviews