A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books

Alberto Manguel. I loved his A History of Reading, so this was a must-read for me. Manguel re-reads twelve favorite books over the course of a year, keeping a commonplace book as he goes.

I don’t like people summing up books for me. Tempt me with a title, a scene, a quotation, yes, but not with the whole story. Fellow enthusiasts, jacket blurbs, teachers and histories of literature destroy much of our reading pleasure by ratting on the plot. And as one grows older, memory, too, can spoil much of the pleasure of being ignorant of what will happen next. I can barely recall what it was like not to know that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were one and the same person, or that Crusoe would meet his man Friday. [Argh, there, you’ve ruined those books for me, Alberto!]

Questions that in themselves delight: Why and how has this happened? Who is responsbile? What plan lies behind this confusion of facts? The reader assumes the role of a detached Job, in which sentiment is a mere adornment or distraction.

The rain has stopped. For several weeks now I’ve followed a certain routine: working on one book in the morning, on another in the afternoon. This is easier now that the days are getting colder. Two different voices or tones: the first tries to be coherent and follows the thread of a narrative or an argument; the second (this diary) is fragmented, haphazard. The second allows me to think without an established direction.

The reader contradicts the writer’s method, whatever that may be. As a reader, I’ll follow a carefully plotted story carelessly, allowing myself to be distracted by details and aleatory thoughts; on the other hand, I’ll read a fragmentary work (Valéry, for instance, or Pío Baroja) as if I were connecting the dots, in search of order. In both cases, however, I look for (or imagine) a link between beginning and end, as if all reading were, in its very nature, circular.

One Reply to “A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books”

  1. If you haven’t read Robinson Crusoe, do so. You’ll be surprised about his man Friday. You’d best have a dictionary close at hand while reading.

    I, too, thought I knew the story. Enjoyed the book thoroughly.


Comments are closed.