Thursday, June 23, 2005

Reading is Good

I don't know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading. It's been on my shelf for a while. Perhaps I was waiting for the proper mood to strike? The perfect moment to arrive? Whatever I was waiting for I am glad I stopped waiting and finally read the book. It is a book that made me feel good about being a reader. Instead of feeling like I belonged to a small group of people on the fringe, I realized that readers today are part of a web that covers the globe and extends all the way back through time to that first person who made and interpreted the marks on the clay tablet. Manguel understands how alone readers can feel. On page five, after cataloguing famous readers and their reading, he writes:

All these are readers, and their gestures, their craft, the pleasure, responsibility and power they derive from reading, are common with mine. I am not alone.
Manguel is a reader through and through and this book was a joy to read. He writes about how, in literate societies, learning to read is a sort of initiation, a "ritualized passage out of a state of dependency and rudimentary communication." He writes about how the reading of books used to be a communal experience due mostly to their scarcity and expense. With the advent of the printing press and the rise of the middle class, books became cheaper and more abundant and reading became silent and private. He also writes about the joys of reading in bed and how to choose the perfect book for it. He understands why reading in bed is so desirable:
But there is something other than entertainment which one derives from reading in bed: a particular quality of privacy. Reading in bed is a self-centered act, immobile, free from ordinary social conventions, invisible to the world, and one that, because it takes place between the sheets, in the realm of lust and sinful idleness, has something of the thrill of things forbidden.
Manguel also writes about author readings, censorship, translation and people who love books too much. One of the best things about this book is that Manguel meticulously cites his sources. I probably added fifty books to my reading list because of this. If you haven't read this book be sure you do, and soon. You'll be glad you did.