Saturday, 26 March 2016

Between the Cover - Alberto Manguel on the Art of Reading

There is something marvellous about the act of reading. Reading can be equated with travelling as both acts involve exploration and introspection. Books often become platial entities in which we meet dead people and imaginary creatures. Books have the power to nurture and nourish minds by providing privacy, peace and solitude.

Many writers have written about the importance of reading. Gustave Flaubert succinctly expressed, "Read in order to live". In the twenty first century, writers like Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges represented how reading as a vocation underwent a change in the age of modernity. Books carry histories and predict futures. Books facilitate spatial and temporal journeys and also throw light onto the history of humanity.

Alberto Manguel in his book, A History of Reading, explores the various shades of reading - private reading, loud reading, forbidden reading etc. He writes:

"Experience came to me first through books. When later in life I came across an event or circumstance or character similar to one I had read about, it usually had the slightly startling but disappointing feeling of déjà vu, because I imagined that what was now taking place had already happened to me in words, had already been named."

"Jelly was a mysterious substance which I had never seen but which I knew about from Enid Blyton's books, and which never matched, when I finally tasted it, the quality of that literary ambrosia... I believed in sorcery, and was certain that one day I'd be granted three wishes which countless stories had taught me how not to waste. I prepared myself for encounters with ghosts, with death, with talking animals, with battles; I made complicated plans for travel to adventures islands on which Sinbad would become my bosom friend..."

According to Manguel, any text can provide knowledge. Be it weathered newspapers or a billboard by the side of a road. For him, a reader is an empowered being who can choose sensations and experiences:

"... In every case, it is the reader who reads the sense; it is the reader who grants or recognises in an object, place or event a certain possible readability; it is the reader who must attribute meaning to a system of signs and then decipher it. We all read ourselves and the world around us in order to glimpse what and where we are... Reading, almost as much as breathing, is our essential function..."

A History of Reading is a book about books, writers and readers. About forgotten libraries and book stores. About reading practices that shape cultures and societies. 

Books are timeless treasures of knowledge and happiness. And reading, as Manguel states, is an eternal rite of passage.