Alberto Manguel understands you.
He knows that you look at your shelves at night, remembering a favorite passage, or how you acquired a book, as your gaze moves across titles on spines in the moonlight.
He sympathizes with your attempts to figure out new ways to organize your books, a task that becomes more urgent and, at the same time, more impossible as time passes and your collection grows outside the spatial boundaries of your shelves, or perhaps even of your home.
He understands your frustration when you realize that you have forgotten books that you already have read, or that you remember specific passages or illustrations, but can't remember the book they come from.
He accepts your practice of looking at books at friends' and acquaintances' houses, scanning titles and analyzing organizational schemas to glean some clues about their owners' likes, dislikes, even their identity.
He understands you because he is also a passionate bibliophile. He openly admits his own habits and foibles around books. And he's made a career out of writing books about books for people who love books.
In The Library at Night, Manguel starts with his personal project - to oversee the renovation of a 15th-century barn, south of the river Loire, to house his own library. Once you shake off the envy (a 15th-century barn as a personal library! renovating it to your specifications! in France!!!), you can accompany Manguel on his thematic exploration of the meanings of libraries across history - personal libraries as well as public libraries. Manguel has organized each chapter around a specific function or theme connected to libraries - The Library as Myth, The Library as Order, The Library as Chance, The Library as Oblivion, etc. He studies each theme from many perspectives - his personal experience, historical accounts and literary evidence, illustrations, quotes and many wonderful anecdotes.
I am not including any specific examples of the stories he tells, since part of the joy of this book is in being surprised when you turn a page, alternating with feeling a sense of familiarity with Manguel's expressing a feeling or experience that you share. Be warned though - this is the sort of book that leads you to follow friends, family members, and colleagues around, as you say excitedly, "Just listen to this!"
My main criticism of the book is that the reproduction of the images, especially photographs, is not the best. On the other hand, Yale University Press has created a book that readers can afford to buy for their own libraries, even if they have already spent the majority of their last paycheck on other books.
Highly recommended for bibliophiles everywhere, especially if they read it at night.