Last night I was standing in front of a bookcase, looking for a book to read before going to bed. I left without any. It happens… Sometimes I take a book for this reason only – not to leave empty-handed. I give it a try but more often than not it ends up laying on the table or by the pillow, waiting to get back on the shelf. Sometimes it feels as if I know them all and I need a surprise. Sometimes I think I want a particular title but it turns out its time has not yet come. (I tried to read War and Peace several times, for instance; never got through the first volume. Doctor Zhivago, the same story).
So, as I was standing in front of a bookcase I thought how magnificent it would be to have a library composed of books piling up on my to-read list only. Books on whose titles I stumbled upon while reading other books (An Experiment With Time by J.W. Dunne, or Die Blendung by Elias Canetti), or literary magazines (The Castle of Argol, Julien Gracq), books mentioned in interviews with writers (On Heroes and Tombs, Ernesto Sabato) or reviewed by various bloggers (Melancholy, Jon Fosse), books I’ve heard of from a friend (A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh), books that attracted me with the title (Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin), or the back cover summary (Biographer’s Tale, A.S. Byatt), with the theme (Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago), imagined style (Fishing for Amber, Ciaran Carson) or even the front page alone (The Following Story, Cees Nooteboom). Such a fantastic collection of unknown yet familiar books it would be.
I say familiar because every one of these titles represents a document of a particular state I was in when I stumbled upon them; a document of my interests and preoccupations at a certain point of time… For quite a number of these books I cannot remember when or why I have assigned the label to read. Also, I feel sorry for not taking notes of the ways in which I got to know about a particular book. It would be interesting to analyze.
We can imagine the books we ’d like to read, even if
they have not yet been written, and we can imagine
libraries full of books we would like to possess, even if
they are well beyond our reach, because we enjoy
dreaming up a library that reflects every one of our
interests and every one of our foibles—a library that, in
its variety and complexity, fully reflects the reader we
Alberto Manguel. Library at Night