Into the Looking-Glass Wood: Essays on Books, Reading, and the World

Alberto Manguel, Author, Andre Bernard, Editor Mariner Books $13 (288p) ISBN 978-0-15-601265-2
An homage to Alice in Wonderland sets the tone for this smooth but predictable collection of miscellaneous pieces on literature and politics. In referencing Lewis Carroll's arch logic--and later Borges's labyrinthine conundrums--critic and professional bibliophile Manguel (A History of Reading) indulges his penchant for thinly spun theorizing on the relationship between reader and text, the power of words and naming and the hallowed status of literature and its practitioners. Manguel praises Cynthia Ozick, G.K. Chesterton and Canadian poet Richard Outram in a series of review-based essays, and elevates the entire put-upon class of writers in an extended tongue-in-cheek retelling of the Old Testament Book of Jonah. Two pieces on the genre of gay literature take up familiar debates of inclusion and exclusion; another piece raises interesting questions about ""imaginary"" or ""armchair"" Jews who take unearned pride in their heritage (but fails to answer them adequately). Born and raised in Argentina, Manguel--who currently resides in Canada--is at his sharpest and most original in his Argentine-themed essays: a piece on Borges's amorous adventures draws on Manguel's schoolboy memories of reading aloud to the blind writer; ""In Memoriam"" poignantly describes the fate of one of Manguel's first mentors, Marta Lynch, a popular Argentinean writer, in the aftermath of the 1966 military coup; and in ""God's Spies,"" Manguel decries Mario Vargas Llosa's call for amnesty for Argentinean war criminals. When Manguel isn't waxing too lyrical, he is an able storyteller. In the end, however, the reader is liable to concur with Cynthia Ozick, as quoted by Manguel: ""Fiction is all discovery.... Essays know too much."" (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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