Reviews

A Reading Diary

Norbert Ruebsaat

A few years ago Alberto Manguel reread twelve of his favourite books and kept a monthly diary in which he wrote about what he was reading and about the life events surrounding the reading; the result was A Reading Diary (Knopf), and I didn’t notice until I was rereading it that I had read most of it while lying in the bathtub; a couple of blinks later I realized that the cover of the book shows Manguel lying reading in his bathtub (albeit fully clothed). The illumination came while I was rereading the entry in which Manguel recalls Adolfo Bio Casares’s The Invention of Morel and ruminates on the difference between the books he takes to bed every night, which “impose on me their time and length, their own rhythm of telling before I fall asleep,” and the books he sorts out and stacks in his library during the day, which are “ruled by my own notions of order and categories and obey me almost blindly.” In the cover photo, the edges of the (empty) bathtub in which Manguel lies fully dressed are lined with books, and the light suggests daytime; I read his book before dawn, warm, wet and naked amidst sponges and soaps and realized that Borgesian equivalences, symmetries, conversions, madnesses and possible redemptions of this kind—via the mirror of the book, the womb of a library—made my reading and my memories of this reading the tenderest of experiences. A Reading Diary reprises the theme of Manguel’s earlier work, A History of Reading, and makes it personal and universal. “The reader,” he writes, “contradicts the writer’s method . . . I’ll follow a carefully plotted story carelessly, allowing myself to be distracted by details and aleatory thoughts; on the other hand, I’ll read a fragmentary work as if I were connecting the dots, in search of order. In both cases, however, I look for (or imagine) a link between beginning and end, as if all reading were, in its very nature, circular.” It occurred to me as I connected the dots in Manguel’s diary that as I get older, I read fewer “carefully plotted books” and pay less attention to fashion in clothing, because I’m more interested in pillow talk.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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