Book Review | A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel

4915288Alberto Manguel takes us on a journey through his reading. Keeping a journal to record his experiences with travel, friends, family, quotes, world events and his own thoughts, Manguel rereads one book a month, and now we are invited in to see a little of his world at this time and what happened on his reading journey. 

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a unique novel – there have been many books about books – but Alberto Manguel is a very unique person, and I think that is what makes this an interesting and different read, far different from what I was expecting.

He says himself in the novel that he “speaks in quotations” and that is very true in his writing, and is a reason why much of this review will consist of quotations. 

“What others see as our finest achievements are often not what we ourselves see.” – p. 19

Manguel’s record of the moments in his life are interesting, and offer a unique perspective on a man who has lived in more cities than I have probably visited. He visits Argentina, Canada and Switzerland, as well as his home in France, throughout the course of this novel, and talks about many other places he has visited/lived in as well. His reflections on Argentina, where he was brought up, also, I feel, offer an insight into a place I don’t really know much about. The past 50 years or so (Manguel was born in 1948) have been a tumultuous time, and he reflects on this in his book. Oftentimes, he isn’t actually writing about the book he is reading, but about what is happening around him. Sometimes this correlates to the book, through a character, a quote, or even a plot point.

I also liked how throughout the course of the book he is creating his library.

I will sleep one night in the library to make the space truly mine. C. says that this is the equivalent to a dog peeing in the corners.” – p. 25

I feel like the books Manguel chooses (listed below) are actually really interesting. There is a mixture of English and foreign authors, from Kipling to Chateaubriand and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many more books have been added to my TBR. I also like how the novels seem to incorporate themselves into Manguel’s life throughout his rereading of them. I find it interesting, sometimes, having read a book and then noticing the topic of it, or a scene of it, everywhere you go.

“Mirrors and mating are abominable, because they multiply the number of men.” – Tlön, Uqbar. – p. 23

This book was written in 2002 and 2003, around the time of two very important and devastating world events: a year after 9/11, and the start of the Iraq War. I am too young to remember 9/11 happening, although I have some vague recollections of the early Iraq War (and I certainly remember later events). It is interesting to see Manguel’s perspectives and how the talk everywhere he went was about the war… aside from in Switzerland. He reflects on this in the insightful manner of a travelled man. (And his comedic mix-up where the hostess mistakes him for Yann Martell, author of Life of Pi, is a nice touch.)

This is a journal, not a book, really. The entries are sometimes somewhat fragmented, but I feel that this gives a proper insight into Manguel’s mind than if it had been written in beautiful prose. I really enjoyed this book: not only was it interesting, it was also inspiring, and I want to go back and reread some of my favourite books and record the events and thoughts I have surrounding them as well. It’s definitely one I would recommend.

“This morning, I looked at the books on my shelves and thought that they have no knowledge of my existence. They come to life because I open them and turn their pages, and yet they don’t know that I am their reader.” – p. 213

A Year of Alberto Manguel’s Books

June: The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
July: The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells
August: Kim by Rudyard Kipling
September: Memoirs from Beyond the Grave by Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand
October: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
November: Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
December: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
January: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
February: The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati
March: The Pillow-Book by Sei Shonagon
April: Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
May: The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

TITLE: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
AUTHOR: Alberto Manguel
GENRE: Non-fiction/journal
ISBN: 9781841956381
PERSONAL SOURCE: Borrowed from University Library

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