26 January 2008

Alberto Manguel - A Reading Diary

Alberto Manguel has had an interesting life. Born in Buenos Aires, he grew up for a time in Israel as his father was ambassador there. Aged 16 he was working part-time in a bookshop in the Argentine capital that Borges frequented. The great writer, by now going blind, employed Manguel as his reader, which no doubt inspired the young man to a career in literature. Having lived in England and Italy, he has since become a Canadian citizen, and writes in English.

Manguel is now something of an industry, publishing novels, art history and works of eclectic interest such as A History of Reading. This book is something of an indulgence - a year rereading favourite books, and writing generally about them, with no pressure to create a coherent theme. He calls it in the introduction a commonplace book of reading.

I'd read only three of the dozen books chosen - The Invention of Morel, The Sign of Four and Don Quixote - and given up on a couple more - Elective Affinities and Wind in the Willows (at the age of six - I still have the unread edition) The others include a couple I hadn't heard of - The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, for example, and The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati.

Manguel's intention is to allow the ideas which come from reading these books to be supplemented by the events of his life as he reads them, although the project is a little vague, and the book suffers from a lack of coherence. Familiarity with the books helps to follow his sometimes unconnected thoughts; I found some of the chapters on books I didn't know a little wearing. He is an intelligent and witty writer though, and I've since sought out some of his other works.


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