The History of Reading

Alberto Manguel, Author
Alberto Manguel, Author Viking Books $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-670-84302-2
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-14-016654-5
Paperback - 372 pages - 978-0-00-654681-8
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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.)
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