“So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.”
– Vincent Van Gogh

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Zy Marquiez
October 12, 2020

Whether you are a reader, student, teacher, or perhaps someone who simply loves books, you have undoubtedly experienced the feeling of being swept away by words. 

Individuals of all types who use the written word as a form of expression, often showcase in one way shape or form, a new world, a different world, one of possibilities, one of vision, one of profound depth.  Such instances often leave the reader feeling inspired and lost in contemplation for having experienced what they just did.

In similar fashion, Mangel paints a historical picture of reading with such clarity and precision that it allows you to journey through the pages of time as if you were right there with other readers, even sampling actions and thoughts at times.

A History Of Reading by Alberto Manguel is an intriguing and in depth overarching overview of most circumstances that involve reading throughout the pages of history.

The book is essentially a conjunction of two different elements: part personal diary and part scholarly research.

Cogent and incisive, Manguel does not hesitate in delving into the full spectrum that encompasses a bibliophile’s delight, weaving through countless historical instances which home in on crucial events around the history of books and reading.

For instance, the author not only covers absorbing anecdotes, individuals and the origins of reading, but also curious ventures of prominent individuals who had prodigious libraries of all types, one of which insisted on having his library travel with him. You read that right!

Manguel notes:

“In the tenth century, for instance, the Grand Vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, in order not to part with his collection of 117,000 volumes when travelling, had them carried by a caravan of four hundred camels trained to walk in alphabetical order.”[1]

A bibliophile to boot, no doubt!

What’s more, the book also features intriguing anecdotes of a wide range which infuse into the reader full range of emotions that all readers experience.  On this, the author states that:

The act of reading establishes an intimate, physical relationship in which all the senses have a part: the eyes drawing the words from the page, the ears echoing the sounds being read, the nose inhaling the familiar scent of paper, glue, ink, cardboard or leather, the touch caressing the rough or soft page, the smooth or hard binding; even the taste; at times, when the reader’s fingers are lifted to the tongue.”[2]

Beyond that, Manuel also does a fine job of making sure the reader gets a taste of what it would have been to be a reader throughout other distinct time periods.

Manguel also touches upon the Library of Alexandria, book thieves, reading the future, ancient librarians, and much more.

Another noteworthy historical point of consideration examined was the relentless censorship that governments have undertaken of books.  Such immoral instances show the inherent fear governments have of educated individuals due to the salient self-sufficiency and power that books can impart, which is one of the reasons why book should always be held in high esteem, as they are one of the best (and simplest) ways for an individual to acquire freedom.

As the author soberingly contemplates:

“As centuries of dictators have shown, an illiterate crowd is easiest to rule; since the craft of reading cannot be untaught once it has been acquired, the second-best recourse is to limit its scope.   Therefore, like no other human creation, books have been the bane of dictatorships.”[3]

Given that we are in an age where the written and spoken word are increasingly censored across all social media platforms, such words should be profoundly heeded.   

As Manguel expounds:

Absolute power requires that all reading be official reading; instead of whole libraries of opinions, the ruler’s word should suffice.”[4]

And the ruler’s words, in modern times, comes mostly through the mainstream media.

Nothing frees a mind more than a powerful book, for it allows readers to be self-sufficient and be able to be free to the fullest extent of the word.  That’s why historically, books have always been dangerous to the establishment, and always will be.

With that said, the book covers much more than mere censorship, and censorship is only a fraction of the totality collated by the author.  The book still covers a kaleidoscope of information to satiate any curious reader.

Regardless though, books are to be enjoyed, and the ironic part is that reading a book about reading made me want to read even more than ever before.  And if I were a betting man, I would bet that this book can do the same for you.

Author’s Note:

One of the downsides of COVID-19 is that access to libraries has crashed down a cliff.

I say this not only because I miss going to libraries, which I would go to a few times a week pre-COVID, but because many people aren’t able to truly appreciate the depth with which books enrich their lives. Moreover, I do believe there will be a concerted effort to siphon books away (and probably destroy them knowing how the establishment historically operates), the same way the establishment seeks to do with paper currency.

As much as I hate to say it, I believe that as paper money goes, paper books will, too, unfortunately.

Even so, don’t ever under estimate the power of books, because they have changed the course of history much more than people realize, and honestly, don’t get the credit that they deserve in my opinion.

[1] Alberto Manguel, A History Of Reading, p. 193.
[2] Ibid., p. 244. Bold emphasis added.
[3] Ibid., p. 283. Bold emphasis added.
[4] Ibid., p. 283. Bold emphasis added.


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