Friday, March 11, 2011

A Personal Library

A Reader  

On Reading

By Alberto


After leaving school, this being one of the few things school and I agreed on, I went into work, training as a comme chef, bypassing the higher education route for a fixed income and an escape from all things educational. So although my love of literature continued, even grew, it was without formal structure. In fact, it could quite easily be said that my route through literature was more of a paper chase, where one clue led to the next, or led me off on some strange/wild tangent – this solely depending on the degree of communication between myself and the last book read. Via this means, I discovered my path through the reading world, where one writer begat another, who begat another, who…..,  until, like some large shadow, this accumulation of the written word trailed behind me, to remain forever linked with some part of me, whether as a point in time, a recollection or, on a deeper level, as some elemental condition of who I am, and in the process became my personal library. This library, being the sum total of everything I’ve read.This lifetimes reading forms my key, my starting point, my guide and my level playing field, for everything I will read, and yet this is just one of the bibliotheca, a reader has at their disposal, and by reader I mean one such as myself, someone who believes books are:

not something you pick up between programmes;

as valid a form of nourishment as any protein/vitamin;

not merely entertainment (although it can be);

truth, even if the form taken is fiction.

So what are these other libraries? Well, apart from the obvious collection of books at home, there's the ones on my kindle app, the record of books read on my Bookdroid, on my Goodreads, My LibraryThing, even the record of books read this year featured on my blog.They all funnel into my personal library, and help to define me as a Reader.



“We come into the world intent on finding narrative in everything, in the landscape, in the skies, in the faces of others, and, of course, in the images and words that our species create”. So writes Alberto Manguel, in this fantastic, thought provoking joy of a book – A Reader on reading. He goes on to say, via the thirty-nine essays collected here, “ when the world becomes incomprensible….. when we feel unguided and bewildered, we seek a place in which comprehension (or faith in comprehension ) has been set down in words” and through the narratives of Jonah, Homer & Dante, and through topics ranging from Pinocchio to comics, from Borges to Che Guevara, and even Lewis Carroll's Alice, we are guided into the writer’s world. To Alberto Manguel, reading is a refuge, an escape route, reading is a compass that aids our discovery of the world and of ourselves. He argues that this most human of creative activities defines us, that at the core we are “Reading Animals” intent on reading our own lives and those of others.

One of my favourite essays, titled- Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader- starts with a list cataloguing his thoughts on what makes an Ideal Reader, here's a few.

  • The ideal Reader is The Writer just before the words come together on the page.
  • Ideal Readers do not reconstruct a story: they re-create it.
  • The ideal Reader is the translator, able to follow to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down the marrow, follow each artery and each vein, and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal Reader is not a taxidermist.
  • Ideal Readers do not follow a story; they partake of it.
  • The ideal Reader never exhausts the books geography.
  • The marquis de Sade: “I only write for those capable of understanding me, and these will read me with no danger”---- The Marquis de Sade is wrong: The Ideal Reader is always in danger.
  • Reading a book from centuries ago, The ideal Reader feels immortal.
  • Pinochet who banned Don Quixote because he thought it advocated civil disobedience, was that books Ideal Reader.
  • The Ideal Reader is capable of falling in love with one of the book’s characters.


This is one of those books that should be on the bedside table, of every reader, if you love books, if you have a library of a few books, or thousands, add this to it. To finish this post - just a few definitions towards an Ideal Library.

  • In 1250 Richard de Fournival compared the Ideal library to a Hortus Conclusus, a walled garden.
  • The ideal Library disarms the curse of Babel.
  • The map of the ideal library is it’s catalogue
  • No shelf in the Library is higher or lower than the reach of the readers arm. The ideal library does not require acrobatics
  • The ideal library is meant for one particular reader. Every reader must feel that he or she is the chosen one.

In the current climate of closures to libraries, under the reasoning (???) of cost-cutting measures, I’ve chosen this one to finish with.

The Ideal Library symbolizes everything a society stands for. A society depends on its libraries to know who it is because libraries are societies memory.


James said...

This is one of the Manguel books that I have on my to-read list. Thanks for the informative review. I should get to this sooner rather than later.

@parridhlantern said...

I Loved this book so much it has already spurred me in to seek out others, just for the combination of passion & erudition I think you'll at the very least like this.thanks for the comment.

Em said...

I have heard good things about this book before and now again.
It sounds like a book I would enjoy. TBR list?

@parridhlantern said...

@Em: hi Em, I think that anyone who reads will love this, remember the scene in Italo Calvino's if on a winters.. where he describes going into the bookshop past books that then a list of various book descriptions start, there are 2 chapters that are a bit like that in one he describes an ideal reader & in the 2nd an ideal library & the conceits just made me smile.

Tom C said...

I'm sure I left a comment on this yesterday!

Em said...

Oh yes, that passage in If on a Winter's Night made me smile and giggle with pleasure.

Melanie said...

Love the last quote. I'll be picking this book up...from my library!

@parridhlantern said...

And so appropriate in this current climate & this book is full of such quotes.

Pebbleddash said...

Interesting blog and another well recommended book. Soon to be bought and soon to be read. Thanks!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Kevin And thanks for your comment, Manguel's one of those writers that you can & should luxuriate in. this Man's a readers reader & a writers writer.

santurini@reading buddy said...

Thanks for letting me know about one more book by Alberto Manguel to put on my reading list! I only discovered him a few months ago when I picked up his "Tagebuch eines Lesers" (A Reading Diary) at my local library. It was instant love! :) His addiction to books and reading is showing in each line. I recently finished "Die Bibliothek bei Nacht" (The Library at Night) and it was exactly the same.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Santorini@reading buddy, he is one of my favourite writers, have you read Stevenson under the palms ( )

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Santorini@reading buddy, he is one of my favourite writers, have you read Stevenson under the palms ( )

@parridhlantern said...

Santorini@reading buddy, also have All men are liars, with Borges & Homer's the Iliad & the Odyssey.

santurini@reading buddy said...

No, luckily I haven't, there's only one more book by him on my library stack --> "Im Spiegelreich" (Into the Looking Glass Wood). So now, I've two more books to look forward to! Thanks a lot, parrish!