A Reading Diary , by Alberto Manguel, (Alfred Knopf, New York , 2004, 253 pp., Can. $19.95/U.S $13.50)
A couple of years ago Alberto Manguel reread twelve of his favourite books and kept a monthly dairy in which he wrote about what he was reading and about the life events surrounding the reading. I didn’t notice until I was myself rereading the book that I had read most of it lying naked in the bathtub; and I recalled a couple of blinks later that the cover of A Reading Diary (which I then looked at) shows Alberto Manguel lying reading in his bathtub (albeit fully clothed). The illuminations came while I was rereading the entry where Manguel recalls Adolpho Bio Caesares’s The Invention of Morel and ruminates on the difference between the books he takes to bed every night and 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, Manguel lies fully dressed in his—dry—bathtub; books line its edge and the light suggests daytime: I read his book before dawn, warm, wet and naked amidst sponges and soaps. Borgesian equivalences, symmetries, conversions, madnesses and possible redemptions of this kind—via the mirror of the book, via the womb of a library—made my reading and make my memories of this reading the tenderest of experiences. A Reading Diary personalizes and universalizes the theme of Manguel’s previous A History of Reading (1996) : “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.” Alberto’s—fragmentary—diary found me naked as the day I was born, and I looked and imagined and noticed as I connected the dots that as I get older I read fewer “carefully plotted books” and pay less attention to clothing fashions. I’m more interested in pillow talk.
394 w. May 23, 2006