A Reading Life

January 31, 2007 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Alberto Manuel, Anna Quindlen, reading life | Leave a comment

Manguel, A. (1996). A History of Reading. NY: Viking Press.

Quindlen, A. (1998). How Reading Changed My Life. NY: Ballantine Books.

 To understand the reader’s perspective on genres, it’s useful to explore the historical and cultural context of reading. In doing so, I was transported for hours browsing my library’s surprisingly large selection of books about books, reading and readers.  There was a missionary zeal in these works, especially those penned by noted authors. These memoir-style accounts were lush with anecdotes detailing how both the simple act of reading and what they read transformed their lives.

quindlen2.jpgAnna Quindlen’s best seller How Reading Changed My Life (1998) is my favorite book on this subject.  In her free-flowing, engaging essay style, Quindlen describes her discovery of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books  and its revelation of possibilities. She discovered that reading could offer freedom, sustenance and companionship.  She deftly interweaves her personal stories with comments on attitudes toward reading expressed in American popular culture. She observes (p 9) “a certain hale and heartiness that is suspicious of reading as anything more than a tool for advancement”.  Her comments about reading groups , about censorship and about women reading resonated with me. 

manuel.gifMy reactions to another best-selling reading memoir, Alberto Manuel’s A History of Reading (1996) are decidedly mixed by comparison. I enjoyed dipping into Manuel’s chapters and sampling his historical anecdotes. However, I feel the title is a vast overpromise versus the wandering, idiosyncratic text he delivers. What Manuel does best is discuss how previous experience will influence how each reader interprets a text.  Manuel’s book is similar to Quindlen’s in that it celebrates the intimacy and the reader’s  freedom to create and recreate meaning . Another highlight was his chapter “Reading within Walls” which explores genre reading stereotypes, personalized by his embarrassment at buying “the pink covered book”. 


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