Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A History of Reading (3)

Alberto Manguel. New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1996.

Why read it? Do you have questions about reading? You read. But do you think about the process of reading? Is the way you read the way everybody else reads? How has reading changed over the years? This book is, in a sense, the author’s autobiographical account of his reading and an historical account of the development of reading. In explaining his experience of reading, he answers other readers’ questions about their reading. He provides a number of interesting thoughts about the nature of reading.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“The separation of letters into words and sentences developed very gradually.” p. 49.

“Like Augustine before him, Isidore believed that reading made possible a conversation across time and space, but with one important distinction: ‘Letters have the power to convey to us silently the sayings of those who are absent.’ ” p. 49.

“But silent reading brought with it another danger the Christian Fathers had not foreseen…silent reading allows unwitnessed communication between the book and the reader.” p. 51.

[Emerson] “…thought there were too many books to be read, and thought readers should share their findings by reporting to one another the gist of their studies….” p. 53. [The purpose of these blogs. RayS.]

Emerson: “All these books…are the majestic expressions of the universal conscience….” p. 56.

“This quality of reading, which enables a reader to acquire a text not simply by perusing the words but by actually making them part of the reader’s self….” p. 58.

“Towards the year 1350…the chancellor of the Cathedral of Amiens, Richard de Fournival…suggested that, since all humankind desires knowledge and has but a short time to live, it must rely on the knowledge gathered by others to increase the wealth of its own [knowledge].” p. 59.

Augustine (according to Petrarch): “Whenever you read a book and come across any wonderful phrases which you feel stir or delight your soul, don’t merely trust the power of your own intelligence, but force yourself to learn them by heart and make them familiar by meditating on them….” p. 63.

“We never return to the same book or even the same page, because…we change…and our memories grow bright and dim and bright again, and we never know exactly what it is we learn and forget, and what it is we remember.” p. 64.

“I enjoyed learning the poems, but I didn’t understand of what use they might possibly be; ‘They’ll keep you company on the day you have no books to read,’ my teacher said.” p. 64.

“A text read and remembered…its only existence is in the mind, as precarious and fleeting as if its letters were written on water.” p. 65.

Writing in the mid-thirteenth century, the learned Spanish King Alfonso el Sabio: “…well and truly must the teachers show their learning to the students reading to them books and making them understand to the best of their abilities and once they begin to read, they must continue the teaching until they have come to the end of the books they have started.” p. 74.

“The birch, as much as the book, would be the teacher’s emblem for many centuries.” p. 76.

To be continued.

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