An erudite analysis and exploration of curiosity through the author’s own works and those of countless others.
Manguel (A Reader on Reading, 2010, etc.), an Argentina-born Canadian essayist, translator, critic and editor, tackles a variety of difficult questions: Who am I? What is language? Where is our place? How are we different? Why do things happen? What can we possess? What comes next? In each of his 17 chapters, the author focuses on a different question posed by a curious mind, and each begins with a brief and sometimes-poignant anecdote from the author’s youth. Chief among the curious minds that fascinate Manguel is that of Dante, whose quest in The Divine Comedy is spiritual and who serves here as the author’s constant companion. It is worth noting that one of the book’s charms is the presence of numerous unusual illustrations, including many woodcuts from a 15th-century edition of Dante’s work. Among the fictional or mythical characters that readers meet on this journey through the history of mankind are Eve, Pandora, Ulysses and Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as a host of real scholars, religious figures, authors, poets, artists, philosophers and even economists. Human beings are, Manguel notes, self-conscious animals, capable of experiencing the world by asking questions and putting our curiosity into words, then turning those words into stories that lead to further questions. A fair sample can be found here. The author’s personal library is said to contain more than 30,000 volumes, and the wealth of references in this book demonstrates that he is indeed a voracious reader.
For casual readers, the brief personal passages may provide welcome pauses in what is a highly literate and demanding text perhaps best appreciated by followers of Manguel’s previous works.