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A Reading Diary

Alberto Manguel wrote A Reading Diary over the course of a year, as he reread twelve of his favorite books. It centers around associative reading, by which he means that each book you read changes you, and will change the way you read the next book. The more you read, and the more widely you read, the more allusions you absorb, and the more connections you make—some of which the writer may not have intended.

Manguel writes less about the plot of the books than what the books mean, the underlying thread, and how that thread weaves through both his life and other literature he’s read. Each book is an opportunity to reassess his place in the world and to pull the things he loves tighter around him. Each connection he makes, from book to book, is a piton on which he can stand, which makes his position more secure.

Like Delany’s Jewel-Hinged Jaw, Manguel pushes me to think harder, think better, and read wider. Though Manguel had many good thoughts in A Reading Diary—he’s a smart man, and has considered a wide array of subjects—what I enjoyed most about the book is the new web of writers he’s introduced, and his take on them. I’m looking forward to Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel (I’ve already requested it. ILL, of course…) because of how much Manguel liked it, and because of how much I like Borges, who was Bioy Casares’s friend and critic. I’m also planning to read Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave (that link leads to an excellent annotated translation). Books like this would be worth it for the book list alone, but Manguel has given me much other intellectual fodder, such as this quote:

What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child? — Lin Yutang

or this one, from Manguel himself:

Macbeth’s dilemma is that he wishes for acts without consequences–the only real impossibility.

A Reading Diary will settle into the silty folds of my brain, and, I’m hoping, breed something intelligent. Here’s to associative and accumulative reading, as that’s the main thrust of these entries and most of my writing.

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