Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A History of Reading (4)

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:

[During the 1980s and 1990s, an issue developed over whether children should learn to read by decoding syllables (phonics) or by using whole words (“Whole Language”). What follows is justification for the whole word method RayS]:

“…the ‘global’ method for teaching reading laid out two centuries later (in French, 1787) by Nicolas Adam in his A Trustworthy Method of Learning Any Language Whatsoever: ‘When you show a child an object, a dress, for instance, has it ever occurred to you to show him separately first the frills, then the sleeves, after that the front, the pockets, the buttons, etc?...of course not; you show him the whole and say to him: this is a dress….how children learn to speak from their nurses; why not do the same when teaching them to read….entertain them with whole words which they can understand and which they will retain with far more ease and pleasure than all the printed letters and syllables.’ ”p. 79.

“Socrates affirmed that only that which the reader already knows can be sparked by a reading….” p. 86.

“One reads in order to ask questions, Kafka once told a friend.” p. 89.

“Two different ways of reading the Bible developed among Jewish scholars in the sixteenth century…. Sephardic schools of Spain and North Africa preferred to summarize the contents of a passage with little discussion of the details that composed it. The Ashkenazi schools based largely in France, Poland, and the Germanic countries analyzed every line and every word, searching for every possible sense.” p. 89.

“…for a reader, every text must be unfinished…thus allowing room for the reader’s work.” p. 92.

“Kafka has been read literally, allegorically, politically, psychologically.” p. 93.

“…something revealing about the creative nature of the act of reading lies in the fact that one reader can despair and another can laugh at exactly the same page.” p. 93.

“ ‘Altogether,’ Kafka wrote in 1904 to his friend Oskar Pollak, ‘I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us; if the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?” p. 93.

“Gotthold Ephraim Lessing…believed that ‘books explain life.’ ” p. 103.

The innkeeper in Don Quixote: “During harvest time…during the festivities many of the laborers gather here, and there are always a few among them who can read, and one of them will pick up one of these books in his hands, and more than thirty strong we will collect around him, and listen to him with such delight that our white hairs turn young again.” p. 119.

“It is interesting to note how often a technological development—such as Gutenberg’s—promotes rather than eliminates that which it is supposed to supersede.” p. 135.

“…359, 437 new books (not counting pamphlets, magazines and periodicals), were added in 1995 to the already vast collections of the Library of Congress.” p. 135.

“One can transform a place by reading in it.” p. 152.

“However readers make a book theirs, the end is that book and reader become one…we are what we read.” p. 173.

To be continued.

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