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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature


Packing My Library

Alberto Manguel

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To purchase Packing My Library

Title: Packing My Library
Author: Alberto Manguel
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2018)
Length: 146 pages
Availability: Packing My Library - US
Packing My Library - UK
Packing My Library - Canada
Packing My Library - India
Die verborgene Bibliothek - Deutschland
Mientras embalo mi biblioteca - España
  • An Elegy and Ten Digressions
  • First published in Spanish translation, in 2017

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing little volume on books, writing, and reading

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 23/2/2018 Lucy Scholes
The Guardian . 14/4/2018 Claire Armitstead
El País . 2/10/2017 José Antonio Millan
San Francisco Chronicle . 7/6/2018 Kenneth Baker
The Spectator . 14/4/2018 Daniel Hahn
Wall St. Journal . 13/4/2018 Ernest Hilbert

  From the Reviews:
  • "(S)light but poignant" - Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

  • "(A) slim, fragmentary meditation on the power of reading and the importance of libraries. (...) On first reading, I felt jostled and distracted by the digressions. Reread as two separate texts, it appears that Manguel has used them to accommodate his own Jekyll and Hyde: the mature and philosophical director of a library, and the furious child who wonít allow anyone to borrow his books, and who grabs at monsters from literature to express a deep sense of injury." - Claire Armitstead, The Guardian

  • "Este libro, tal vez el más personal de todos los de Alberto Manguel, concluye inevitablemente con su toma de posesión del cargo que ejerció Jorge Luis Borges, la dirección de la Biblioteca Nacional de Argentina." - José Antonio Millan, El País

  • "The transition forced him to test and rethink some of his notions about the function and fate of reading. The "digressions" offer glimpses of that process before his bookís reader realizes where they are headed." - Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Early in Packing My Library, Manguel acknowledges his digressive tendencies, all the better to embrace them; and at the end he accepts that, yes, this curious little book has been somewhat disjointed. But it doesnít much matter. Because while itís reflective, even celebratory, what it isnít doing is making an argument, convincing those who donít already recognise their passions reflected in his." - Daniel Hahn, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Alberto Manguel had a stunning 35,000-volume library in the French countryside -- see, for example, this feature in The New York Times -- but in the summer of 2015 he decided to pack it in (for reasons that are, unfortunately, never adequately explained: "they belong to the realm of sordid bureaucracy" is about as much as he lets on, disappointing those of us who enjoy sordid-bureaucracy drama). And so the wonderful, huge collection, boxed up, is shipped off to its: "storage place in Montreal" ..... Packing My Library doesn't focus so much on that painful process; instead, Manguel reflects more about the place of books in his life over the years, and the: "several libraries built up and then abandoned, over and over again, throughout my life"-- while jumping off on ten literary 'digressions' along the way.
       There's some autobiographical detail, but it's largely incidental -- more or less background, along the way, since Manguel finds: "My memory is less interested in me than in my books". Yet he also does not focus too much on specific titles. He does offer some memories of the books accompanying him at various points, but it's not merely a wallow in the read and owned: in a way, the books being boxed up (and far away) make it easier, allowing him to reflect on them, and their meaning for him, more generally.
       It's not just fiction or narrative that's important to him: always a word-person, even the more fundamental is significant, and so one chapter is a paean to the wonders of dictionaries. The limits of language are also considered, Manguel noting that: "language always approximates, never seizes completely whatever it is that it wants to tell" -- the fundamental difficulty of any story-telling (or library-memoir).
       Packing My Library is also, specifically, a library book, as he considers his relationship not only with his own collection(s), but the role of (public) libraries in his life, and in society in general. So also there's some discussion of the interesting Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec virtual reality installation in 2015, by Robert Lepage, which Manguel collaborated on. And then there's the surprise ending -- at least presented by Manguel as coming as quite a surprise to him: that, after packing up his own library, he was offered a job as an actual librarian, something that he never been. He was offered Jorge Luis Borges' old gig (albeit in a new building), as director of the National Library in Argentina. He took (and holds) the position, and the last parts of Packing My Library describe some of that experience and what he has tried and managed to do.
       Packing My Library is an enjoyable little read. 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. It perhaps disappoints that there's not more about specifically his library -- oh, to rummage through those stored-away boxes ... -- but the book still covers a good deal. Certainly of interest to any bookish reader.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 Ferbuary 2018

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Packing My Library: Reviews: Alberto Manguel: Other books by Alberto Manguel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Translator and critic Alberto Manguel was born in Argentina in 1948.

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© 2018-2019 the complete review

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