Thursday, July 16, 2009

A History of Reading (5)

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:

“…no reading can ever be definitive.” p. 173.

“…the magnificent purpose of the [Alexandria] Library was to encapsulate the totality of human knowledge.” p. 189.

“The accumulation of knowledge isn’t knowledge.” p. 190.

A single book can be placed in many different categories: “Filed under fiction, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a humorous novel of adventure; under sociology, a satirical study of England in the eighteenth century; under children’s literature, an entertaining fable about dwarfs and giants and talking horses; under fantasy, a precursor of science fiction; under travel, an imaginary voyage; under classics, a part of the Western literary canon.” p. 199.

“In Saint Bernadine’s view, education was the dangerous result of, and the cause of, more curiosity.” p. 218.

“I enjoy the sight of my crowded bookshelves… I delight in knowing that I’m surrounded by a sort of inventory of my life.” p. 237.

“Writing to his wife, Catherine, about reading his second Christmas story, ‘The Chimes,’ he [Dickens] exulted, ‘If you had seen Macready [one of Dickens’s friends] last night—undisguisedly sobbing, and crying on the sofa, as I read—You would have felt as I did what a thing it is to have power.’ ” p. 256.

“Like every reader, Rilke was also reading through his own experience.” p. 267.

“Asking why, of the work of all the twentieth-century poets, Rilke’s difficult poetry acquired such popularity in the West, the critic Paul De Man suggested that it might be because ‘many have read him as if he addressed the most secluded parts of their selves….” p. 269.

“…as General Videla defined it, ‘a terrorist is not just someone with a gun or bomb, but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to Western and Christian civilization’ ” p. 289.

“Most readers…have at some time experienced the humiliation of being told that their occupation is reprehensible.” p. 296.

“…his glasses accuse him: here is a man who will not see the world directly, but relies instead on peering at the dead words on a printed page.” p. 297.

“…compares himself to Ptolemy II of Alexandria, who accumulated books but not knowledge.” p. 297.

Seneca: “Many people use books not as tools for study but as decorations for the dining room.” p. 299.

“The shelves of the books we haven’t written, like those of books we haven’t read, stretches out into the darkness of the universal library’s farthest space.” p. 309.

Comment: Manguel has given us plenty of ideas to think about reading, an occupation that we generally take for granted. For me, reading provides ideas, ideas cause me to think about life, and sometimes cause me to act. I would like to see some day a book about how people read and how they have used what they have read. I would like to see a book about people’s five greatest ideas discovered in books. And a list of the five most memorable books that people have read and why. I would like to read more about people’s experiences with reading. RayS.

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