Lament for lost books and pre­cious spa­ces

A word­smith’s trauma of shift­ing his li­brary from home to boxes

Pretoria News - - METRO - PACK­ING MY LI­BRARY: AN ELEGY AND TEN DIGRESSIONS Al­berto Manguel Loot.co.za (R303) YALE UNIVER­SITY PRESS RE­VIEWER: KA­RINA M SZCZUREK Pack­ing My Li­brary Pack­ing My Li­brary

“LOSS helps you re­mem­ber, and loss of a li­brary helps you re­mem­ber who you truly are,” writes the re­mark­able Ar­gen­tineCana­dian word­smith, Al­berto Manguel. Nine years ago, I had the great for­tune of spend­ing an af­ter­noon in his com­pany. It was just af­ter a visit to the spe­cial col­lec­tion of a li­brary in the French prov­ince of Cham­pagne where I had seen manuscripts from the Mid­dle Ages.

The li­brar­ian re­spon­si­ble for them han­dled the trea­sures in white cot­ton gloves and, for un­der­stand­able rea­sons, would not al­low any­one else to touch them.

Still spell­bound, I told Manguel of the en­counter with the pre­cious books and how much I had longed to touch their pages. That is when I found out about his own fa­mous li­brary, lo­cated in the home he shared with his part­ner near Paris, and con­tain­ing thou­sands of books, some as an­cient and unique as the ones I had seen.

And in his kind­ness, he said that if I ever came to visit, he would al­low me to hold these books in my hands.

Sadly, I never had the op­por­tu­nity to take him up on this gen­er­ous of­fer, but the dream re­mained with me un­til I read Pack­ing My Li­brary, Al­berto Manguel’s farewell to the li­brary he told me about, an ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of 35 000 books “housed in an old stone pres­bytery south of the Loire Val­ley, in a quiet vil­lage… ”

He doesn’t go into de­tails why the home – and the li­brary – had to be packed up in 2015, but the ex­pe­ri­ence had been clearly trau­matic. To adapt an African proverb: When an old li­brary dies, a man burns to the ground.

“I’ve of­ten felt that my li­brary ex­plained who I was, gave me a shift­ing self that trans­formed it­self con­stantly through­out the years.” With the help of friends, the books are cat­a­logued and put into boxes be­fore be­ing shipped to Canada. is, as the sub­ti­tle sug­gest, a lament for the ab­sent books and the lost space where they had come to rest for many years, where the author “never felt alone”. Manguel re­calls how the li­brary took shape through­out his no­madic life, how in­di­vid­ual ti­tles be­came part of the col­lec­tion and how they in­flu­enced the author’s re­flec­tions. The digressions of the sub­ti­tle are short pieces on top­ics as di­verse as lit­er­ary cre­ation, re­venge and Jorge Luis Borges, the writer who at one stage of his life be­came the direc­tor of the Na­tional Li­brary of Ar­gentina, a post now oc­cu­pied by Manguel.

Manguel has been shar­ing his love of lan­guage and read­ing with us for decades. is a touch­ing trib­ute, an obit­u­ary to a self formed and in­formed by a li­brary now dor­mant un­til – hope­fully – its next “un­pack­ing”.

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