A HISTORY OF READING by Alberto Manguel


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 A delightful set of interlinked essays that explore the history of reading, by a novelist (News From a Foreign Country Came, 1990) and anthologist (Other Fires, 1985, etc.). This is written more in the pursuit of learned pleasure than of pedantic knowledge, by a man plainly in love with books and reading. Its agreeably digressive path does not begin at the beginning and proceed chronologically, as one might expect a ``history'' to do. Rather, each chapter is a freestanding essay that takes up topics in the history of reading: the way reading has been taught and learned, how people read in public and in private, bookish means of divining the future, the idea of reading as a metaphor, the relation of that which is heard to that which is read. Manguel claims no governing concept here, but there is a striking idea that recurs in varied forms. It concerns what might be called the prerogative of the reader. The reader's imagination can transform a book ``into a message that deciphers for him or her a question historically unrelated to the text or to its author. This transmigration of meaning can enlarge or impoverish the text itself. . . . Through ignorance, through faith, through intelligence, through trickery and cunning, through illumination, the reader rewrites the text with the same words of the original but under another heading, re-creating it, as it were, in the very act of bringing it into being.'' This explains not only the ability of the Bible and the classics to speak to successive generations, but also clarifies the deeply personal appeal of any favorite book: It says what we need it to say, what we wish we could say for or about ourselves. Manguel's urbane, unpretentious tone recalls that of a friend eager to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. His book, digressive, witty, surprising, is a pleasure. (140 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-84302-4
Page count: 353pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996


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