Latam Booklook: 'A history of reading' by Alberto Manguel

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Reading as a passion, reading as a way of approaching the world. That's what Manguel shows us in his book

Latam Booklook: 'A history of reading' by Alberto Manguel

What is it about?

"Because the desire to read, like all other desires that distract our unhappy souls, can be analyzed," says Virginia Woolf in one of the epigraphs to Manguel's book. Precisely this, an analysis of the desire to read, is what Manguel does through the different chapters of his book. More than analysis, I would call it a narration of how the Argentine author has organized a story, of the thousands that there may be, of what reading has meant at different times.

The book takes us to Mesopotamia where we find the first record of writing on a rock, until medieval Japan where women aristocrats wrote a specific genre of texts with their language, or even the Library of Alexandria to show how the organization of a Library is the organization of a universe. It is a temporary trip to how reading has shaped the history of humanity, its way of interpreting the world.

Then, when approaching literature through its interpretation, 'A history of reading,' published becomes a book about readers, about how they give life to the book and the written word in general. Speaking of the first Mesopotamian tablets (3500 BC), Manguel says "The writer was a message-maker, a creator of signs, but those signs and messages required a magician, who deciphered them, who recognized their meaning, who gave them a voice. The writing needed a reader. " Ultimately, Manguel tells us with his book that the readers make the literature.

Who wrote it?

Son of a diplomat, Alberto Manguel (1948) lived his first in displacement. His main home was Israel until at age 7 he finally went to live in Argentina, where he spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence. There, in 1964, while working at the Pygmalion bookstore in Buenos Aires, Jorge Luis Borges asked him to go some days of the week to read it out loud. Manguel accepted and until 1968 he was one of several readers who visited Borges to read to him because he could not read because of his blindness.

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After graduating from high school, he completed a year of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Buenos Aires and later decided to go to Europe to work. In the old continent, he worked as a reader of French publishers (Gallimard, Denoël) and English (Calder & Boyars). Years later he would live in Tahiti, Toronto, Poitou-Charentes and again Buenos Aires, as director of the National Library, just as Borges was.

His literary work consists of narrative, mainly police novels, and essays that speak of how his life has been formed through literature and the written world.

Do I read it or not?

Beyond the historical data with which Manguel nurtures the different chapters, the book shows the close relationship of this writer with literature. Thus, there are moments when the text begins with Manguel reflecting on a specific situation that makes him think about writing and then begins to talk about how the act of reading works in those cases. This always accompanied by personal visions and descriptions of how fiction, poetry, and essays - all forms of literature, in general - have affected the way they approach the world.

Therefore, the book is not only a history of literature but also the story of a passion for literature, how Manguel reading is a way of life. While reading the book, his style and reflections convey that love for all that can be read, which makes it a pleasant, passionate reading, which provoked in me, at least, a mood for the act of reading, a motivation to continue reading literature in all its forms.

I recommend reading this book, for the act of love transmitted by literature, for knowing how reading has shaped the human, for feeling how reading has affected so much the life of an Argentine man born in 1948.


LatinAmerican Post | Juan Gabriel Bocanegra

Translated from "Latam Booklook: ‘Una historia de la lectura’ de Alberto Manguel"

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