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A Reader on Reading [Paperback]

Alberto Manguel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2011
In this major collection of his essays, Alberto Manguel, whom George Steiner has called 'the Casanova of reading', argues that the activity of reading, in its broadest sense, defines our species. 'We come into the world intent on finding narrative in everything', writes Manguel, 'landscape, the skies, the faces of others, the images and words that our species create'. Reading our own lives and those of others, reading the societies we live in and those that lie beyond our borders, reading the worlds that lie between the covers of a book are the essence of "A Reader on Reading". The thirty-nine essays in this volume explore the crafts of reading and writing, the identity granted to us by literature, the far-reaching shadow of Jorge Luis Borges, to whom Manguel read as a young man, and the links between politics and books and between books and our bodies. The powers of censorship and intellectual curiosity, the art of translation, and those 'numinous memory palaces we call libraries', also figure in this remarkable collection. For Manguel and his readers, words, in spite of everything, lend coherence to the world and offer us 'a few safe places, as real as paper and as bracing as ink', to grant us roof and board in our passage.

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A Reader on Reading + A History of Reading + The Library at Night
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300172087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300172089
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 313,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"'Books jump out of their jackets when Manguel opens them and dance in delight as they make contact with his ingenious, voluminous brain.' (Peter Conrad, The Observer) 'Manguel is a true polymath, and A Reader on Reading is a kind of a primer, or perhaps a masterclass. It's like listening to Barenboim on Beethoven... The range and complexity of Manguel's sympathies and readings is extensive and baroque.' (Ian Sansom, The Guardian) 'In reading, he realises that there are a thousand and one stories to be told about books, each narrative or anecodote leading to and from another, in an infinite progression... A Reader on Reading is an invitation to readers to enter into a world of wonders.' (Iain Finlayson, The Times) "'There are", writes Manguel, "certain books that, in themselves, are an ideal library." This book might be one of them.' (Angel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times) 'Manguel weaves his recollections into literary musings... his overall argument is compelling.' (Edward King, Sunday Times)"

About the Author

Internationally acclaimed as an anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, and editor, Alberto Manguel is the best-selling author of several award-winning books, including A Dictionary of Imaginary Places, A History of Reading, With Borges, and Reading Pictures (Finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction). He was born in Buenos Aires, moved to Canada in 1982, and now lives in France, where he was named an Officer of the Order for Arts and Letters. His most recent book is The Library at Night, also published by Yale University Press.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, but ... 27 April 2011
By David
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Another beautifully written series of meditations on the book and literary culture, including libraries (of course) and some highly entertaining swipes at Anglo-Saxon publishing. Manguel wears his breadth of reading lightly and refuses to engage in (for example) Deleuzian theoretical pyrotechnics, insisting - implicitly - on truth to feeling and perception. There is deep thinking here but not theory. The 'unhistoric act' of reading, for Manguel - to allude to Eliot's jaw-dropping banality-complexity trope at the end of *Middlemarch* - 'contributes to the growing good of the world' simply because reading is simple, dignified, absurd, rich, complex - in short, human. Readers find meaning - and make their own meanings - everywhere. I find Manguel excellent reading company, urbane and humane, a friend and not a preacher.

Only four stars here, though, compared with the wondrously seraphic and Browneian *Library at NIght* and the hardly less majestic *HIstory of Reading*. Why? Unfortunately this is a publisher's potboiler, recycling some old material (yes, most of which is very good). Manguel has worked hard, though, to bring everything together, rewriting and adding an epigraph from Carroll's Alice stories to each essay. The worst thing about it - leaving aside one or two leaden and sententious Guardian-style political assertions (as if the expression of worthy opinion ipso facto makes the world a better place) - is the title, which is deliberately mendacious. In Manguel's capable hands, a reader (especially Manguel) writing about reading would be a wonderful self-reflexive project, pulsing with life and intelligence. But this is not what this title is, though you can see the publishers nudging themselves in the ribs and congratulating themselves on being 'clever'.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Library 21 July 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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".
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5 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alberto's Greatest Hits 6 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover
In the dying era of the book (see numerous books) the bookish are spoilt. I'm a sucker for essay collections (in England now the essay's believed dead; hah! - look west) and this one's sumptuous, scrumptious even; a veritable goody-bag -- and like a literary chocolate box there'll probably be one you leave till last (Don Quixote? ugh!) -- but it's mostly self-indulgence unless you're allergic to Alice who - cryptically, demurely and, it has to be said, pretty irrelevantly - serves as running epigraph, or frilly paper between the titbits.

The English intellectual doesn't know quite what to make of the rest of the world's infatuation with Alice. Is it that foreigners have never heard the word twee or simply that we absorbed Alice with our mother's milk and therefore never consciously had to 'read' her? Or (perish the thought) is her appeal partly class-based and therefore somehow tarnished in the world Blair left us? Pooh has been 'democratized' (read: ruined) by Disney and The Wind in the Willows by the feeble stage version (Toad is a SUBPLOT: it's like A Dance to the Music of Time being called Widmerpool - next, Widmerpool! The Musical?) And what about the mortal blow dealt The Railway Children by that sugary film (yes I know everyone younger than me loves it and had a pash on Jenny, but I remember the FIRST (live) TV adaptation of the early 50s - and how many of you have read the book anyway?) Middle-class icons all - but in the past available to all children with the hunger. And then there is Alice, who has the inestimable advantage of being an independent female; she is not easily pigeon-holed or cartoonified and if she can avoid being deconstructed she will survive - but how many children today are as familiar with her words as we were with those of the King James Bible, even in a godless household like mine?
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A FEAST OF PLEASURES, ALL ABOUT READING 20 Jun 2011
By David Keymer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"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.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Standout Bookman 29 May 2010
By James M. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Library 21 July 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone who loves reading should read this book 4 May 2010
By Alison Daniel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Review of the joys of reading 21 Mar 2014
By Bruce 22 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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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