“Real books disgust the totalitarian mind because they generate uncontrollable mental growth – and it cannot be monitored.”
John Taylor Gatto, A Different Kind Of Teacher, p. 82.
October 12, 2020
Just like A History Of Reading is an unabashed book about all things reading, The Library At Night is a genuine book about the veritable signature sanctum for all readers throughout history: The Library.
Looking at libraries from fifteen different perspectives, Manguel shows us the The Library as myth, order, space, power, shadow, shape, chance, workshop, mind, island, survival, oblivion, imagination, identity and home.
In each of these respective chapters, the author keenly compares each topic to the library, and in a very refreshing, vivid, and thoughtful way shows us how the library fulfills each of those themes.
Since time immemorial, entering a library has always been seen as entering a different domain. It matters not whether one is merely a researcher, a reader, a student, or someone else. Everyone knows that the library is a place of adventure, place of learning, a place of rumination.
For avid learners, libraries have always been a private realm, a place of mental solitude and discernment. Any individual, at any time, in any place can keenly escape into the mental freedoms such a place affords.
In a sense, libraries are a page of human history – a well known locale in which one can hearken back in time, and even forward, to witness the totality of the human experience. Or at least what’s left of its memories.
Be that as it may, Libraries haven’t always been respected.
Manguel incisively catalogues the destruction of entire libraries, where the living memories of humanity can be most often found.
Given that books impart “uncontrollable mental growth” as two-time award winning teacher of the year, and avid homeschooling advocate and researcher, John Taylor Gatto stated, books have always been seen as dangerous by those in power.
Naturally, Libraries are symbols of what human nature can accomplish when totally free to explore and create, which is why time and time again there are those who have sought to destroy them, to keep people dumbed down and ignorant of the roots of civilization – the veritable pages of history.
As Manguel sobberingly notes:
“The libraries that have vanished or have never been allowed to exist greatly surpass in number those we can visit…”
Please read that again.
The amount of history that has been lost to wanton destruction can’t ever be truly understated.
Where would humanity be if all that knowledge and wisdom remained?
We will never know. That’s exactly why it happens in the first place, so individuals never come to terms not only with the nature of history, but also their true unrelenting inner nature and their power in the field, which when used wisely can lead to compound growth.
Of those libraries that remain:
“Throughout history, the victor’s library stands as the emblem of power, repository of the official version [of history], but the version that haunts us is the other, the version of the library of ashes. The victim’s library, abandoned or destroyed, keeps on asking, “How were such acts possible?”
What has humanity forgotten? What has gone by the wayside to the sands of time?
Those stark questions are worth ruminating upon at length, especially since the cycles of history teach us that sooner or later, the war against books and libraries takes center stage.
On that same parallel track, incessant censorship is still ongoing, except instead of libraries, entire websites are taken down, veritable modern libraries that challenge official reality, repositories of information that empower individuals in countless ways, which is why attention should be heeded to the issue.
And given that censorship of articles, books, websites and blogs continues to run rampant as governments and institutions try to censor “fake news”, the modern version of book burning will merely be the censorship of the written word through the landscape of the Internet.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Libraries conjure self-empowerment, imagination, all the while stoking curiosity, all of which resonates by the actions that individuals take from the information gathered therein.
Manguel elucidates on this:
“The existence of any library, even mine, allows readers a sense of what their craft is truly about, a craft that struggles against the stringencies of time by bringing fragments of the past into the present. It grants them a glimpse, however secret or distant, into the minds of other human beings, and allows them a certain knowledge of their own condition through the stories stored here for their perusal. Above all, it tells the reader that their craft consists of the power to remember, actively, through the prompt of the page, selected moments of the human experience.”
Those reasons are exactly why libraries confer power, because they allow individuals to become self sufficient in more ways than they can imagine, fine tuning their mental faculties in ways no other place does.
Libraries help us see the past, but even better, help us imagine a greater future, and more importantly, act on it.
In a time where countless issues abound, libraries stand in stark opposition to a system that seeks totalitarian control over the human mind, and John Taylor Gatto spoke out about this disturbing issue quite trenchantly and made it his life work.
Be that as it may, whether you are a student, a researcher, a reporter, or merely a reader, the library will always provide a sanctum, a personal space, like a warm fire at night to be used at any moment.
In similar fashion, this book provides readers with comfort and all the amenities that libraries provide, but in book form. If that notion appeals to you, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this book.
 Alberto Manguel, The Library At Night, pg. 124.
 Ibid., pg. 247. Bold and italics emphasis added.
 Ibid., pg. 30.
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