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A Reader on Reading
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
"When I was eight or nine, my disbelief was not so much suspended as yet unborn, and fiction felt at times more real
than everyday fact."
(Alberto Manguel)

I've been a fan of Manguel since his novel, News from a Foreign Country Came (1991). I've read with pleasure his Dictionary of Imaginary Places (revised, 2000) and with more than pleasure --with unstinting admiration! --his lovely A History of Reading (pb, 1997). Last year I read his With Borges, about the enriching experience of reading books to the blind Argentinian literary master and what Manguel learned from him. In all of these books, Manguel's largeness of spirit and his generous approach to reading books is apparent. So hurrah for him!

Now Yale has issued in paperback a splendid collection of short pieces by Manguel, on libraries, on reading, writing, editing.... None of the pieces is long, which, given the richness of citations and allusions in the best of them, is a good thing because they all can be read in one sitting, with time at the end for reflection on what one has just ingested. Manguel's style is in some aspects like Borges -complex reflections on, transmutations of, literary and life themes, infused with of a lifetime filled with reading. Reading Manguel is like talking with an old friend, a terribly bookish friend who loves books but hasn't retreated from the world.

"... hasn't retreated from the world..." A good way to describe his writing.

The best essay in the book is entitled "Meanwhile, In Another Part of the Forest," and it addresses the question of -the nature of, purpose of-- gay literature today. He quotes Edmund White, from his memoir, A Boy's Own Story ("Since no one is brought up to be gay, the moment [a boy] recognizes the difference he must account for it.") and Camille Paglia ("...their only continuity is through culture, which they have been instrumental in building."). Then Manguel writes:

Perhaps the literature of all segregated groups goes through similar stages: apologetic, self-descriptive, and instructive;
political and testimonial; iconoclastic and outrageous. If that is the case, then the next stage . . . introduces characters who
happen to be gay but whose circumstances are defined well beyond their sexuality which is once again seen as part of a
complex and omnivorous world....

...our desire need not be limited. Heterosexuality and homosexuality were no doubt two of those protean forms, but they are
neither exclusive nor impermeable. Like our literary tastes, our sexual affinities need only declare allegiance and define
themselves under duress. In the moment of pleasure, we are as indefinable as the moment itself. Perhaps that generous sense
of pleasure will ultimately prevail.

Another theme in these essays is the subversive nature of good teaching, which teaches pupils to question the very authority about which they are learning. Again, Manguel's own words say it well:

There is no such thing as a school for anarchists, and yet, in some sense, every teacher must teach anarchism, must teach the
students to question rules and regulations, to seek explanations in dogma, to confront impositions without bending to
prejudice, to demand authority from those in power, to find a place from which to speak their own ideas, even if this means
opposing, and ultimately doing away with, the teacher herself.

THIS is an exceptional collection of essays. As might be expected, given the diverse origins of these essays -some commissioned, others lectures, a few little more than notes-- the pieces range in quality. Almost all of them are good and the best are exceptional.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2010
The continuing popularity of printed books in these digital times is due at least in a small way to the superb writings of Nicholas Basbanes and Alberto Manguel.
Manguel usually observes the world of books from a very personal viewpoint which different readers may consider either a strength or a liability. I regard it as a positive, as his views are distinctive, sincere and heartfelt. This book contains more biographical background on the author than his other works. The subjects of the approximately 40 short essays are random yet maintain an interesting flow. A fine general interest book and a "must-have" for collectors of books about books.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2012
After leaving school, this being one of the few things school and I agreed on, I went into work, training as a comme chef, bypassing the higher education route for a fixed income and an escape from all things educational. So although my love of literature continued, even grew, it was without formal structure. In fact, it could quite easily be said that my route through literature was more of a paper chase, where one clue led to the next, or led me off on some strange/wild tangent - this solely depending on the degree of communication between myself and the last book read. Via this means, I discovered my path through the reading world, where one writer begat another, who begat another, who....., until, like some large shadow, this accumulation of the written word trailed behind me, to remain forever linked with some part of me, whether as a point in time, a recollection or, on a deeper level, as some elemental condition of who I am, and in the process became my personal library. This library, being the sum total of everything I've read.This lifetimes reading forms my key, my starting point, my guide and my level playing field, for everything I will read, and yet this is just one of the bibliotheca, a reader has at their disposal, and by reader I mean one such as myself, someone who believes books are:

not something you pick up between programmes;

as valid a form of nourishment as any protein/vitamin;

not merely entertainment (although it can be);

truth, even if the form taken is fiction.

"We come into the world intent on finding narrative in everything, in the landscape, in the skies, in the faces of others, and, of course, in the images and words that our species create". So writes Alberto Manguel, in this fantastic, thought provoking joy of a book - A Reader on reading. He goes on to say, via the thirty-nine essays collected here, " when the world becomes incomprensible..... when we feel unguided and bewildered, we seek a place in which comprehension (or faith in comprehension ) has been set down in words" and through the narratives of Jonah, Homer & Dante, and through topics ranging from Pinocchio to comics, from Borges to Che Guevara, and even Lewis Carroll's Alice, we are guided into the writer's world. To Alberto Manguel, reading is a refuge, an escape route, reading is a compass that aids our discovery of the world and of ourselves. He argues that this most human of creative activities defines us, that at the core we are "Reading Animals" intent on reading our own lives and those of others.

One of my favourite essays, titled- Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader- starts with a list cataloguing his thoughts on what makes an Ideal Reader, here's a few.

The ideal Reader is The Writer just before the words come together on the page.
Ideal Readers do not reconstruct a story: they re-create it.
The ideal Reader is the translator, able to follow to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down the marrow, follow each artery and each vein, and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal Reader is not a taxidermist.
Ideal Readers do not follow a story; they partake of it.
The ideal Reader never exhausts the books geography.
The marquis de Sade: "I only write for those capable of understanding me, and these will read me with no danger"---- The Marquis de Sade is wrong: The Ideal Reader is always in danger.
Reading a book from centuries ago, The ideal Reader feels immortal.
Pinochet who banned Don Quixote because he thought it advocated civil disobedience, was that books Ideal Reader.
The Ideal Reader is capable of falling in love with one of the book's characters.

This is one of those books that should be on the bedside table, of every reader, if you love books, if you have a library of a few books, or thousands, add this to it. To finish this post - just a few definitions towards an Ideal Library.

In 1250 Richard de Fournival compared the Ideal library to a Hortus Conclusus, a walled garden.
The ideal Library disarms the curse of Babel.
The map of the ideal library is it's catalogue
No shelf in the Library is higher or lower than the reach of the readers arm. The ideal library does not require acrobatics
The ideal library is meant for one particular reader. Every reader must feel that he or she is the chosen one.
In the current climate of closures to libraries, under the reasoning (???) of cost-cutting measures, I've chosen this one to finish with.

The Ideal Library symbolizes everything a society stands for. A society depends on its libraries to know who it is because libraries are societies memory.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2010
Alberto Manguel is a writer who loves books. The way he shares his love of reading, shares the immense value and beauty of reading, how we learn and think in a way much different than those who do not read is magical as his gorgeous writing.
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on October 29, 2014
George Steiner calls Alberto Manguel the "casanova of reading", and I agree! Manguel is articulate and writes beautifully. There are a lot of essays in this book and they all explore the different ways to read and write and what books do for our minds. "A Reader on Reading" is very academic and at first it was hard to get into. I also didn't know many of the authors of the essays and that he talked about. However, I loved the book and will definitely be reading his other books. The book shares the value of reading as only "readers" know it. Non-readers surely would not appreciate the complexities and value that the book brings to an individual.
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on October 20, 2013
Essays of kaleidoscopic knowledge from Antiquity to Alice in Wonderland as metaphor for the rabbit hole. If I had half the the intelligence, half the erudition and insight, his facility in any language that this man can read in, I would stop writing: my humanity thus complete.
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on June 6, 2013
Full of thoughtful, considered, provocative passages - drawing one's attention to peripheral associations about approach to life, to work, to enjoyment. An appreciation for history, for open inquiry, for quiet thought - on varied subjects, all fascinating in themselves.
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on March 21, 2014
This book is fascinating in its ability to interweave various cultures and difficult problems.
The visions of Jorge Luis Borges, of Argentina in the sixties, of Paris at different times are fascinating.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2013
It is a pleasure reading Mangle, it takes your mind on a very rewarding journey. Highly recommend any of his books
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2013
While I normally enjoy books about other books and reading, this one is far too academic for my tastes. There are too many unfamiliar authors, many of Hispanic origin, and I've never read any of them. This book did not succeed in making me want to read them (authors such as Juan Luis Borges). Manguel's style here is too dense for me. I wanted to like this book but couldn't get more than 20% of the way through before abandoning it. What I'm saying is not that this is a bad book; simply that it was not for me. I have a lot of books I'd like to read and with only so much time, this cannot be one of them.
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