The Great Reader

“I wouldn’t define myself as a writer. I would define myself as a reader.”

I like this statement because it states so much about myself. The statement comes from an interview with Alberto Manguel, who once read to the great Borges and is the author of many books on reading, including the History of Reading and With Borges.

Brian Sholis has an excellent review of his book published last week The Library at Night.

“Outside theology and fantastic literature, few can doubt that the main features of our universe are its dearth of meaning and lack of discernible purpose,” he writes at the outset. And yet humankind continues to hoard what knowledge it can in an attempt to order that universe.

“Books come together because of the whims of a collector, the avatars of a community, the passing of war and time, because of neglect, care, the imponderability of survival . . . and it may take centuries before their congregation acquires the identifiable shape of a library.” In the year 336, a monk had a vision of his Lord and painted scenes from the life of Buddha on the walls of a cave. Over the course of a millennium, chance turned this cave and others nearby into repositories of religious manuscripts and paraphernalia; nearly a millennium after that, chance led to the rediscovery of the site, now known as the Mogao Caves. What do such storehouses of memory grant us? Both The City of Words and The Library at Night come to the same conclusion: “consolation for suffering and words to name our experience.”

A podcast of Albert Manguel’s CBC Massey Lecture 2007 (need to register)

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