A History of Reading

Overview

At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning, and at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader. Noted essayist and editor Alberto Manguel moves from this essential moment to explore the six-thousand-year-old conversation between words and that hero without whom the book would be a lifeless object: the reader. Manguel brilliantly covers reading as seduction, as ...

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A History of Reading

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Overview

At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning, and at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader. Noted essayist and editor Alberto Manguel moves from this essential moment to explore the six-thousand-year-old conversation between words and that hero without whom the book would be a lifeless object: the reader. Manguel brilliantly covers reading as seduction, as rebellion, and as obsession and goes on to trace the quirky and fascinating history of the reader’s progress from clay tablet to scroll, codex to CD-ROM.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Reading, Manguel asserts in this encyclopedic and self-indulgent exploration, has such "a particular quality of privacy" that one "can transform a place by reading in it." An erudite yet entertaining conversation with the reader, Manguel's History ranges over languages and literatures from prebook ages to the present. The Argentine-born author, a translator and editor The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, explains how, why and what we read. A book is not a mere object, he contends; whether read or listened to, a book may move emotions or change minds, a temptation that may prompt a translator not to be, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, "like his author" but to attempt "to excel him." Although there is a logic in the telling, and Manguel proceeds from the biology and psychology of reading and listening to a quirky history of books from the incised tablet to the computer screen, the narrative, like gossip, can be accessed anywhere. Manguel seemingly covers 6000 years of book-reading history, assisted by 140 woodcuts, drawings and photos. His history is not for every reader's palate, yet every reader who regrets the omission of a favorite story about reading will attest thereby to the book's many delights. Sept.
Library Journal
Writer, translator, and editor Manguel (In Another Part of the Forest, LJ 6/15/94) has produced a personal and original book on reading. In 22 chapters, we find out such things as how scientists, beginning in ancient Greece, explain reading; how Walt Whitman viewed reading; how Princess Enheduanna, around 2300 B.C., was one of the few women in Mesopotamia to read and write; and how Manguel read to Jorge Luis Borges when he became blind. Manguel selects whatever subject piques his interest, jumping backward and forward in time and place. Readers might be wary of such a miscellaneous, erudite book, but it manages to be invariably interesting, intriguing, and entertaining. Over 140 illustrations show, among other things, anatomical drawings from 11th-century Egypt, painting of readers, cathedral sculptures, and stone tables of Sumerian students. The result is a fascinating book to dip into or read cover to cover. For public and academic libraries.Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Kirkus Reviews
A delightful set of interlinked essays that explore the history of reading, by a novelist (News From a Foreign Country Came, 1990) and anthologist (Other Fires, 1985, etc.).

This is written more in the pursuit of learned pleasure than of pedantic knowledge, by a man plainly in love with books and reading. Its agreeably digressive path does not begin at the beginning and proceed chronologically, as one might expect a "history" to do. Rather, each chapter is a freestanding essay that takes up topics in the history of reading: the way reading has been taught and learned, how people read in public and in private, bookish means of divining the future, the idea of reading as a metaphor, the relation of that which is heard to that which is read. Manguel claims no governing concept here, but there is a striking idea that recurs in varied forms. It concerns what might be called the prerogative of the reader. The reader's imagination can transform a book "into a message that deciphers for him or her a question historically unrelated to the text or to its author. This transmigration of meaning can enlarge or impoverish the text itself. . . . Through ignorance, through faith, through intelligence, through trickery and cunning, through illumination, the reader rewrites the text with the same words of the original but under another heading, re-creating it, as it were, in the very act of bringing it into being." This explains not only the ability of the Bible and the classics to speak to successive generations, but also clarifies the deeply personal appeal of any favorite book: It says what we need it to say, what we wish we could say for or about ourselves.

Manguel's urbane, unpretentious tone recalls that of a friend eager to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. His book, digressive, witty, surprising, is a pleasure.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143126713
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 8/26/2014
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 436,131
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.05 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Alberto Manguel is a writer, a translator, and an editor of international reputation; his many books include The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (with Gianni Guadalupi), the award-winning novel News From a Foreign Country Came, and the short story anthologies Black Water, The Gates of Paradise, and (with Craig Stephenson) In Another Part of the Forest. Born in Buenos Aires, Manguel has traveled extensively and is now a Canadian citizen.

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Table of Contents

The Last Page 3
Reading Shadows 27
The Silent Readers 41
The Book of Memory 55
Learning to Read 67
The Missing First Page 85
Picture Reading 95
Being Read To 109
The Shape of the Book 125
Private Reading 149
Metaphors of Reading 163
Beginnings 177
Ordainers of the Universe 187
Reading the Future 201
The Symbolic Reader 213
Reading within Walls 225
Stealing Books 237
The Author as Reader 247
The Translator as Reader 261
Forbidden Reading 279
The Book Fool 291
Endpaper Pages 309
Notes 321
Index 361
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