Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book Review #19: A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel

Not only is Alberto Manguel a fine writer, he is one of the great 'readers' of our time, as this volume attests.

Subtitled ‘A Year of Favourite Books’, this small volume combines ruminations by Manguel on twelve novels, memories of childhood (when he first read many of these books), shards of poetry, events in the daily news that link to the books, visits of friends and neighbours, the turn of the seasons in his garden, as well as numerous apt quotes from a variety of sources. Manguel is a voracious, generous and astute reader and he includes works from across the globe: Don Quixote, Kim, The Pillow Book,Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, novels by H.G. Wells and Goethe. His astonishing literary range is evidenced by the inclusion of works from lesser-known South American writers (Bioy Casares and Machado de Assis), children’s literature (The Wind in the Willows) and detective fiction (The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). His comments on the works are always intelligent, insightful, original and engaging.

Manguel maintains a contemplative tone throughout, as befits a book written, for the most part, in a medieval presbytery, now his home in southern France. In this reflective tone, he states: “I, of course, will disappear …the books will be scattered. … As in the eye of a sculptor chiselling away at a stone, the whole will be all the more beautiful for our absence.” Manguel’s enthusiasms encourage the reader to visit or re-visit many of these literary worlds, but he is especially convincing in his discussions of Cervantes, Kipling and Sherlock Holmes. There is no doubt Manguel loves libraries and books: “I explore my library like someone returning to his native land after an absence of decades.” His gift is the ability to foster that same love in his readers.

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