I can’t tell you how happy I am it’s December. Sure, finals season is upon me, but I always get antsy on the last one or two days of a month. I like having a fresh calendar and new wallpapers. But November still lingers, in the best of ways: last month, Lu tagged me with a short reading questionnaire. Why don’t we get started?
A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel
There are some recommendations on my reading list that are fairly obscure; A History of Reading is one of them. I didn’t find much about it online when I featured it on The Literary Horizon, and don’t even get me started about trying to find the cover image. Yeesh. So I had little to no expectations when I took the elevator to the third floor of the local library here and picked it up when Freakonomics proved to be out, despite me checking thirty minutes prior to see if it was in. Oh, the trials and tribulations of a library patron. But I was pleasantly surprised by A History of Reading, even if I wasn’t blown away by it.
- What do you think of reading aloud/being read to? Does it bring back memories of your childhood? Your children’s childhood?
- Does this affect the way you feel about audio books?
- Do you now have times when you read aloud or are read to?
- As a kid, I liked it. My mother read to me a lot, but I learned to read very early—I actually don’t remember not being able to read, although, of course, I couldn’t at some point.
- Not really; my feelings towards audiobooks come from the way I learn. I’m a visual learner, so I can’t initially engage with a text via audiobook; I miss things, I can’t take notes, I can’t mark passages, so on and so forth. I can only listen to audiobooks that I’ve already read in print form; it’s how I reread books, really.
- Nope, unless audiobooks count.
And here’s a quote from Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading that, I think, manages to express both the tyranny and the comfort of being read to:
At the same time, the act of reading out loud to an attentive listener often forces the reader to become more punctilious, to read without skipping or going back to a previous passage, fixing the text by means of a certain ritual formality. Whether in the Benedictine monasteries or the winter rooms of the late Middle Ages, in the inns and kitchens of the Renaissance or the drawing-rooms and cigar factories of the nineteenth century—even today, listening to an actor read a book on tape as we drive down the highway—the ceremony of being read to no doubt deprives the listener of some of the freedom inherent in the act of reading—choosing a tone, stressing a point, returning to a best-loved passage—but it also gives the versatile text a respectable identity, a sense of unity in time and an existence in space that it seldom has in the capricious hands of a solitary reader. (123)
- Manguel, Alberto. A History of Reading. 1996. New York: Penguin, 1997. Print.
I love books about books—I mean, in a sense, every book is about a book in that it is a response to a book, but books about the very nature of fiction just make me all aglow with happiness. Combine that with my interest in the evolution of the modern fantasy genre (and especially how fantasy stood before Tolkien), and you’ve got today’s selections. (Have I ever mentioned I feel like I’m trying to pair a wine with a meal when I’m drawing these posts up? Because I do.)
Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.
Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.
No, of course not! How would historical nonfiction get published if you were the only person who read it?
I’m reading a history right now—Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading, which I’m enjoying. While I was at home for the summer, I read Studs Terkel’s oral history of the Great Depression, Hard Times, which was fascinating. I like historical nonfiction as much as I like anything else, to be totally honest. It’s the quality of the book that interests me; a good writer can make any historical event fascinating, while a bad writer can make even the most amazing historical event flat and uninteresting.
I love books about books; I love and adore metafiction (by the way, why aren’t you reading The Unwritten?) and I always enjoy a good piece of literary criticism. But sometimes I just like to curl up with a book that recommends other books—that’s how this whole thing started in 2009, by the way. Today, we’re looking at nonfiction books about books—incidentally, they came to me via Erin of Erin Reads.