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.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
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.
“A love letter written to reading.”
—George Steiner, The New York Times “Anyone who reads will be hooked right away. . . . It is, after all, a history of ourselves, and a celebration of our favourite occupation.” —Margaret Visser “An amazing, breathtaking book!” —Bernard Pivot (France) “A highly entertaining overview that leaves us with both a new appreciation for our own bibliomania and a deeper understanding of the role that the written word has played throughout history.” — The New York Times (United States) “A triumph.” — Frankfurter Allgemeine (Germany) “ Exuberant, sumptuous. . . a great treasure.” — El Pais (Spain) “An absolute treasure.” — The Globe and Mail “A great and beautiful book.” — Die Zeit (Germany) “The most entertaining, the most profound, the most instructive, the most jubilant book you can read today.” —Jorge Semprun, Le Journal du Dimanche (France) “An extraordinary feat of learning and writing, and a constant delight. This is my non-fiction ‘Book of the Year.’” — The Financial Post “An erudite and beguiling study of an abiding human passion.” — Maclean’s “A remarkable achievement. . . . Highly enjoyable. . . . I finished the book with a sense of gratitude to have shared this journey through time in the company of a mind so lively, knowledgeable and sympathetic.” — P.D. James “Delightfully sinful, erotic, and anarchic.” — Neue Zurcher (Switzerland)
“If I hadn’t already got it, there is nothing I should so much like to receive. . . . Every worshipper of books will be gripped.”