Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History

Elaborate Description

Reading is an act of empowerment and facilities understanding. Reading is a generative process reflecting the readers attempt to construct one or more meanings within the rules of language. Language is arbitrary as it is just a means of communication. Wholly depended on an interpreter for its existence. Every text remains unfinished which allows room for the reader’s work. Art and books tell the same images and words, it takes reader to imbue them with more.

Books become the reader’s self. A book in the arms of a reader symbolizes the reader values. Some are wary of being seen reading a specific text because of the potential connotations. Although books can be read by anyone, certain books tailor to certain groups. Depending on the context, the reader is seen by a certain quality such as exclusivity, absent-minded, day-dreamer, and subversive. Stories are read differently even if their narratives are similar but the authorship is different. The expectations that a read has of the author shapes the way the book is read. The author does press ideas into the books which captures the readers’ attention.

The reader is seen having acquired authority and perceived powered stemming from the exclusive act that others fear and thus do not tolerate those who read. Illiterate crowds are easiest to control. Fear of what the reader might find in the pages and the actions which the book might inspire, forces totalitarian regimes to threaten and censor books. Authoritarian regimes demand limited thinking which is facilitated by their denunciations. The reader is subversive to authoritarian regimes.

Reading is essential for human societies, but writing is not. Symbols in society are ubiquitous which need to be read. Reading requires learning as visual signs are socially constructed. Generalizing who was able to be literate is difficult, but outside the church, reading and writing were primarily the exclusive right of the aristocracy. Initially, when taught to read and write, the texts were not open for interpretation. It was the teacher’s public responsibility to affirm a common social understanding.

As any technology, books have their critics and potential dangers. Books were criticized for being a crutch for memory and not representing real knowledge. Rather than exercising memory and remembering from oneself, books are used as an external source of a reminder which is not true knowledge. Alternatively, they were praised for what they preserve: memories. Books are a memory preserved for reference in the future, even long after the author’s time. Books actualize the past and enrich the future. With reading, history becomes less malleable. History is still interpreted by the reader, but it can no longer be changed by the whims of the monarch. Books are a different medium from which people were used to passing down information. Manguel references that talk was the means by which people learned and passed learning on.

Early readings were normally performed out loud for a few reasons. Books were expensive which meant that a limited number of people had books. Most people were illiterate, so needed someone to read for them. Public readings established some etiquettes for listeners and authors. Critical response was expected from the listeners, which authors used to improve the text. Silent reading did not take hold until the tenth century. Silence was partly regulated in some situation. In others, the readers thought that reading out loud would raise questions about what was read, so pursued silent reading to prevent arguments and explanations. Pictures were added to books to allow illiterate to follow the story.

Early in writing, books needed to be copied by hand in order to have books to sell. The later editions of these books were deemed better because the scribes ‘corrected’ errors in the text. The way in which a book is translated changes the way the book is interpreted. The shape of the books changed over time. Variably decorated based on customer and commission earned. Some books were commissioned for specific readers, in which the art work decorating the book included the reader or the family’s coat of arms. Some books are tiny while others very large, as it matters how the books is held and by whom.

The printing press made book production faster and uniform which reduced the price of the books. Books sales increased and became everyday objects. Before invention of glasses, books required extra large letters for many readings. The popularization of books due to the printing press increased the demand for glasses. Even before the printing press, the number of books held required the invention of cataloging to categorize libraries. Each category is exclusive and requires the curious reader to rescue the book from the categories.

Reading this book, a reader is liable to fall in love with reading. Books need readers to seek them out. Seek what they hold within. This is a marvelously written book which brings reading to life. In keeping with the book, this is an unfinished book as more history of reading is being added. What it does is present reading in its various guises and situations.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  0670843024
Pages to read:   317
Publication:     1996
1st Edition:      1996
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5