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A History of Reading


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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.

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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