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the Complete Review
the complete review - reading diary


A Reading Diary

Alberto Manguel

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To purchase A Reading Diary

Title: A Reading Diary
Author: Alberto Manguel
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 205 pages
Availability: A Reading Diary - US
A Reading Diary - UK
A Reading Diary - Canada
A Reading Diary - India
Journal d'un lecteur - France
Tagebuch eines Lesers - Deutschland
Diario di un lettore - Italia
Diario de lecturas - España
  • A Passionate Reader's Reflections on a Year of Books

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 2/9/2006 Nicola Barr
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/10/2005 Martin Meyer
Scotland on Sunday . 12/6/2005 Andrew Crumey
The Spectator . 6/8/2005 Jasper Griffin
Sunday Telegraph . 10/7/2005 Nicholas Bagnall
TLS . 14/10/2005 Christopher Heywood
The Washington Post . 5/12/2004 Sven Birkerts

  Review Consensus:

  Generally enjoyed it, if not entirely a success

  From the Reviews:
  • "Manguel refuses to detail plot; rather his essays focus on the way we read, the absolute truths about life, love, exile, the importance of home, being young, growing old that we look for in our fiction." - Nicola Barr, The Guardian

  • "Entstanden ist so ein erfrischendes, sowohl gelehrtes wie vergnügliches Kompendium im Umgang mit Texten und Jahreszeiten." - Martin Meyer, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The idea is attractively simple. The result, though, is less appealing. (...) No problem with the line-up, then. What is missing is any overall organisation. (...) Alberto Manguel does not come across here as a great reader, merely a voluminous one." - Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

  • "The book abounds in acute yet gentle observations, economically expressed, and adding up to a picture of an attractive personality. The reader feels that he has been, perhaps rather beyond his deserts, admitted to a guided tour by a connoisseur, brief but unhurried, of an exceedingly well stocked library." - Jasper Griffin, The Spectator

  • "One can, of course, have too much of this and at times I was murmuring an aphoristic one-liner myself, but from Dorothy Parker ("This book is not to be tossed aside lightly…"). (...) Never mind. Sooner or later these small annoyances turn to something like admiration for a man's appetite for the printed word." - Nicholas Bagnall, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(A)n elegant, quaint and sensitive meditation on the nature of reading." - Christopher Heywood, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Insofar as Manguel's reflections induce the reader to discover or reconnect with important works, the project will have a larger payoff. But my fear -- and my central criticism of Manguel's undertaking -- is that they will not. His style of familiar referencing does not establish context, and without context we cannot appreciate the particular charm or incisiveness of his insights." - Sven Birkerts, The Washington Post

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:

       In A Reading Diary Alberto Manguel re-reads and revisits twelve of his favourite books over the course of a year, one a month. The diary that results isn't focussed solely on these books, but they are central. He takes the experience of (re-)reading beyond the texts themselves: Manguel, a voracious reader with a huge library (physically, as well as in his head), also brings in the where and when (both on the very local scale, as well as the larger global one) of his reading, as well as a great deal of himself (experiences, opinions, feelings).
       His personal book of the month club has a very varied reading-list, ranging from The Wind in the Willows to Goethe's Elective Affinities, Margaret Atwood's Surfacing to Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book, Sherlock Holmes and H.G.Wells. Manguel riffs nicely on the books, as well as making connexions to events around him and offering a bit of historical detail (or gossip: he's met some of the authors, too). But it really is a more general reading diary, as interested in the appeal of books, in what they hold for us when we read them, in how we relate them to the world and our lives. The books he focusses on provide some of the examples, but many other instances are also cited.
       Disappointingly, it's not always made clear why he picks a certain book-of-the month: even where it is a spur of the moment choice, more about the circumstances might be interesting. But at least he has a fair amount to say about each. Because these are books that he is already familiar with he is especially attuned to how different circumstances can affect our reading -- a book enjoyed in childhood one way might now appeal in a completely different way, etc. -- and offers a variety of observations on that (including, for example, that: "A Cuban friend once told me that in Cuba, Bioy is read as a political fabulist)"
       Manguel gets around, travelling quite widely over the course of the year, while he's also always eager to return to a relatively new home in France. When the diary begins his library is still in boxes, and part of the fun is in his setting it up (though here too he could have lingered longer). Occasionally, the personal gets distracting, because Manguel doesn't provide that much information -- it's unclear which languages he is comfortable reading in, for example. At one point the Argentinian-born writer says that as a child he spoke English and German with his governess, while of Spanish he had "only a few halting words", while later he describes himself as a typical Buenos Airesean, implying fluency in Spanish. Translation issues crop up surprisingly rarely, and it's not clear whether or not he read most of these in the original or in a translation (and if so, which one). Given that he readily pronounces (without explanation): "I hate glossaries" -- something presumably much easier for a multilingual reader to say than someone who can only read a single language (and who hasn't read as widely) -- a bit more on such issues (of what the reader brings to the book, specifically regarding linguistic knowledge) would have been called for.
       (Other personal details are also distracting: he mentions having several children, but apparently now has a man-companion ("C") and while his domestic circumstances might not be any of the reader's business, the way Manguel leaves it (C. pops up a lot) just makes it an annoying distraction.)
       These chapters don't provide detailed glosses on the texts, though there are a few nice insights. But more interesting is when he lets himself get more carried away, showing to what thoughts the books can lead. Among the inspired ideas: he imagines what would happen if the Curate and the Barber from Don Quixote were to purge his library of memoirs and diaries, as they had Don Quixote's. He's also a big list-maker (which is why Silvina Ocampo recommended The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon to him), and one of the nice ones he offers is "a 'sentimental library,' made up of books I'd like to have for purely anecdotal reasons", on which he includes volumes such as Keat's Chapman's Homer.
       A Reading Diary is a far-ranging look at reading by one who does it a lot and for whom it means a lot. The varied, jet-setting lifestyle adds a touch of exoticism (though that can also distract). It's a decent little diary, but not really exceptional, trying to do too much, probably, and excelling at none of it. In a way, the individual books get in the way: he focusses on them, and yet doesn't do so enough to make them stand out from all the rest of his reading and activities.
       It's a quick, easy read, with a few very nice touches. Worth skimming -- and there's little more to do with it.

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A Reading Diary: 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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© 2005-2019 the complete review

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