Jealous of the past

A Reading Note

On the library as a personal history:

I delight in knowing that I’m surrounded by a sort of inventory of my life, with intimations of my future. I like discovering, in almost forgotten volumes, traces of the reader I once was—scribbles, bus tickets, scraps of paper with mysterious names and numbers, the occasional date and place on the book’s flyleaf which take me back to a certain café, a distant hotel room, a faraway summer so long ago. I could, if I had to, abandon these books of mine and begin again, somewhere else; I have done so, several times, out of necessity. But then I have also had to acknowledge a grave, irreparable loss. I know that something dies when I give up my books, and that my memory keeps going back to them with mournful nostalgia. And now, with the years, my memory can recall less and less and seems to me like a looted library: many of the rooms have been closed, and in the ones still open for consultation there are huge gaps on the shelves. I pull out one of the remaining books and see that several of its pages have been torn out by vandals. The more decrepit my memory becomes, the more I wish to protect this repository of what I’ve read, this collection of textures and voices and scents. Possessing these books has become all-important of me, because I’ve become jealous of the past.

Manguel, A History of Reading, page 237

Imagine the same jealousy, when instead of a room full of books, you are surrounded by floppy disks, outdated file formats, drives with connections that no longer fit, URLs that return emptiness. The things we read (or see or watch) are part of who we are; we need to guard their futures like our own.

Related books

A History of Reading

Alberto Manguel

Manguel’s lifelong dedication to reading plays itself out in a work that follows reading from clay tablets to present day.