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Into the Looking-Glass Wood

Alberto Manguel

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To purchase Into the Looking-Glass Wood

Title: Into the Looking-Glass Wood
Author: Alberto Manguel
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1998
Length: 272 pages
Availability: Into the Looking-Glass Wood - US
Into the Looking-Glass Wood - UK
Into the Looking-Glass Wood - Canada
Into the Looking-Glass Wood - India
Dans la forêt du miroir - France
Im Spiegelreich - Deutschland
En el bosque del espejo - España
  • Essays on books, reading, and the world
  • First published in Canada in 1998.
  • First US publication: 2000

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Our Assessment:

B : decent collection of pieces about a variety of (mainly literary) subjects

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 3/1999 Norman T. di Giovanni
New Statesman B+ 26/4/1999 James Hopkin
The NY Times Book Rev. A 10/12/2000 Jillian Dunham
The Observer B 28/2/1999 George Steiner
The Spectator B 20/3/1999 William Scammell
Sunday Telegraph B+ 13/3/1999 Miranda France
TLS . 16/4/1999 Stephen Henighan

  Review Consensus:

  Enjoy it, but almost all have some reservations.

  From the Reviews:
  • "If Manguel was a gallery guide you'd have to kick him in the shins every now and then to tell him to stop showing off and get on with it. (...) The prose is sometimes flattened by the author's learning, but Into the Looking-Glass Wood makes up in wisdom what it lacks in warmth." - James Hopkin, New Statesman

  • "He brilliantly recasts his experiences as a young man (.....) He adopts all texts as if they were his own, imagining and interpreting them in every possible way.them" - Jillian Dunham, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The drawbacks to this bouquet of causeries are evident. Substance simply evaporates in lightness and brevity. (...) Dates are not always right. Mandarin learning alternates with the journalistic requirements of the elementary." - George Steiner, The Observer

  • "In matters like these, and in his admiring piece on Cynthia Ozick's essays and novels, Manguel writes with conviction and authority. (...) These alternate with bromides out of the school of Umberto Eco which are not much more than polysyllabic variations on the musings of 'Q' and Sainsbury, exchanging a smoking jacket for the CD-Rom." - William Scammell, The Spectator

  • "This is a less generous book than A History of Reading, but it is certainly provocative, with plenty of ideas worth arguing about." - Miranda France, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The controlling metaphor of Into the Looking-Glass Wood, which collects Manguel's occasional essays with prefaces from some of the many anthologies he has edited, is that of reading as enchantment. The lavish woodcuts and quotations from Lewis Carroll preceding each essay reinforce the metaphor: the book's design, as much as its contents, broadcasts an appeal to book-lovers." - Stephen Henighan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The volume of essays, Into the Looking-Glass Wood, by Alberto Manguel has an epigraph from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and each of its ten sections is prefaced with a quote from Through the Looking Glass. Literature, around which Manguel's world centers, is often Alice-like: mystifying, challenging, exciting, endearing. This volume of mainly literary essays follows, Alice-like, many of the wonders and splendours of literature, explaining but also simply enjoying the adventure that is reading.
       Raised in Argentina, but a long-time exile who finally settled in Canada, Manguel has wide-ranging interests. This volume is divided into ten sections (perhaps a bit many for the twenty-three pieces included here) and includes appreciations of authors, general literary surveys, pieces on various literary issues (editors, translations), and personal reminiscences.
       There are pieces on being a Jew and on homosexual writers, as well as several dealing with the complex political issues of Argentina in the 1970s and 80s. Leaving his native country relatively young Manguel only followed the horrible and criminal acts of the government from abroad, but whether the news was of missing acquaintances or beloved teachers who were, in fact, informants much of it touched close to home.
       A number of the pieces touch upon politics, especially those dealing with Argentina, and Manguel revisits the horrors perpetrated there. He also writes about Che Guevara, and criticizes Mario Vargas Llosa's reactionary politics. As a teenager in the 1960s "politics were a part of everyday life", and it was, of course, a common subject of conversation and discussion, even among teens. As Manguel discovered, this was and is practically inconceivable in contemporary Canada (or the US), and so these political pieces may baffle some of his North American readers.
       The literary appreciations are a varied lot. Not surprisingly there is a great deal of Borges (including the excellent piece Borges in Love) and other Latin American authors, such as Julio Cortázar and Mario Vargas Llosa. Among the other authors he writes at greater length about are Cynthia Ozick, G.K.Chesterton, and Richard Outram. And there is a review of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, fitting in neatly with his discussions of pornography versus the erotic.
       In Reading White for Black Manguel (himself a translator) tackles questions of translation. In The Secret Sharer he tackles that peculiar North American institution, the meddling editor. Manguel correctly questions their "compulsive tinkering with someone else's text". (It is perhaps this piece that caused American publishers to initially shy away from this book -- what fun publishing something if you can't mess it up first ? In fact, this is a volume which could have used a strong editorial hand but was obviously not subject to one.)
       A number of other pieces are not directly about books or authors (or Argentina), but Manguel shapes even these using literature. He is knowledgeable (and very well read), but there is occasionally a surfeit of reference -- too much, because the examples and references occasionally seem almost arbitrary, references for the sake of having references.
       Manguel writes breezily and quite well. There are many references, but Manguel does not overwhelm the reader with obscurity, generally tying together his examples. He is at his best when he speaks from personal experience. His more abstract pieces, on general subjects, all include interesting ideas (so the pieces on translation, editors, or museums), but there is also too little to them. The pieces are incidental, and the subjects (and Manguel's ideas) demand to be expounded at greater length.
       Too many of the pieces do read like relatively simple magazine articles. Where Manguel made the effort to fashion something more substantial for the book version -- as in the piece on Cynthia Ozick, cobbled together from a number of reviews -- the result is quite impressive. Most of the pieces, however, seem to have been left in their newspaper or magazine state -- and they read as such.

       Note: Alberto Manguel is a fairly well-known author, publishing frequently in magazines and newspapers. He is author of A History of Reading, among other books, and he has translated numerous works. This collection of essays, Into the Looking-Glass Wood, was first published in Canada in 1998, and shortly thereafter in the UK, as well as in French and German translation. The American edition only came out in the summer of 2000. "A Harvest Original" ("original" !), not even deemed worthy of being published in hardcover, it went straight to (trade)-paperback. It received considerable attention abroad (see, for example, the many reviews), but little stateside. Need any more be said about the state of American letters and American publishing ?
       Yes ! Much more needs be said -- but, oh, how aggravating and sad it all is !

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Into the Looking-Glass Wood: Reviews: Alberto Manguel: Other books by Alberto Manguel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Translator and critic Alberto Manguel was born in Argentina in 1948.

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