6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful, but ...,
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This review is from: A Reader on Reading (Hardcover)
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'. The 'reader' here is just one of those dreary publishers' makeweight titles, a synonym for a rehash. Thus the title sucks the meaning out of Manguel's conception of the nobility of the simple and human act of reading. I metaphorically throw some heavy brickbats through the windows of the Yale University Press offices - although the production department there have done him good service, with a sensuously chiaroscuro still life cover and some delicious and generously spaced Fournier. Read it in spite of the title.