a readers diary

A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books by Alberto Manguel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2004)

“It occurred to me then that, rereading a book a month, I might complete, in a year, something between a personal diary and a common place book; a volume of notes, reflections, impressions of travel, sketches of friends, of events public and private, all elicited by my reading. I made a list of what the chosen books would be. It seemed important, for balance, that there be a little of everything.”

June: The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

July:   The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

August: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

September: Memoirs from Beyond the Grave by Francois-Rene Chateaubriand

October: The Sign of Four

November: Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

December: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

January: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

February: The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzatti

March: The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon

April: Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

May: The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

“Perhaps, in order for a book to attract us, it must establish between our experience and that of the fiction—between the two imaginations, our and that on the page—a link of coincidences.”

“I’m in my library, surrounded by empty shelves and growing columns of books. It occurs to me that I can trace my memories through these piling up of volumes. Then everything seems redundant, all this accumulation of printed paper. Unless it is my own experience that isn’t necessary. It is like the double realty that the narrator experiences when he quotes Cicero: ‘The two suns that, as I heard form my father, were seen during the consulate of Tuditanus and Aquilius.’ Impossibly, the narrator finds in the house an identical copy of the pamphlet he is carrying in his pocket: not two copies of the same pamphlet but twice the same copy. Double reality obliterates itself; that is why meeting our Doppelganger means that we must die.”

“For years, for lack of space, I kept most of my books in storage. I used to think I could hear them call out to me at night.”

“The heat of the day here in my village suits the weather in the novel. I watch a pair of turtledoves swoop down onto the grass outside my window, strut around for a moment and then fly back up onto the roof of the pigeon tower at the end of my library. They do this (apparently) for the fun of repetition. Partly, that is why I enjoy rereading.”

“We read what we want to read, not what the author wrote. In Don Quixote, I’m not particularly interested in the world of chivalry but in the ethics of the hero, and the curious friendship with Sancho.”

“Note: Literary travel is either a monologue or a dialogue, either the unraveling of one traveler’s route (Ulysses, Pilgrim, Justine, Candide, the Wandering Jew) or two characters in mutual progression (Don Quixote and Sancho, Huckleberry Finn and Jim, Brother and Sister in search of the Blue Bird, Kim and his Lama).” “Title for a doctoral Thesis: ‘The Novel as Obstacle Course.’

“The old truisms still hold: that violence breeds violence; that all power is abusive; that fanaticism of any kind is the enemy of reason; that propaganda is propaganda even when it purports to rally us against iniquity; that war is never glorious except in the eyes of the victors, who believe that God is on our side of the big battalions.

Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.”

“Chateaubriand’s childhood reading: ‘I would steal candle-ends in the chapel to read at night the seductive descriptions of the troubles of the soul.’ I, too, remember reading, throughout a wonderfully long summer, all sorts of books in which I unexpectedly found an erotic apprenticeship, under the cool sheets, my skin hot from the sun, a flashlight shining its light on the page, driven by the unwillingness to fall asleep and let the story break off.”

“List of my favorite detective novels:

Nicholas Blake, The Beast Must Die

Reginald Hill, Bones and Silence

Ruth Rendell, A Judgment in Stone

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

John Dickson Carr, The Black Spectacles

Marco Denevi, Rosura a las diez

Margaret Millar, How Like an Angel

Fruttero and Lucentini, La Donna della domenica

James Cain, Mildred Pierce

Philip Kerr, A Philosophical Investigation

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night

Leo Perutz, The Master of the Day of Judgement

John Franklin Bardin, Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly

Ellery Queen, The Tragedy of X

Anthony Berkeley, Trial and Error

Sebastien Japrisot, Compartiment tueur

James McClure, The Steam Pig

Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve

Georges Simenon, Les fancailles de Monsieur Hire

Patrick Quentin, My Son the Murderer

Chester Himes, Cotton Comes to Harlem

I remember, for instance, Lerner’s careful commentary on Don Quixote’s library, which the Curate and the Barber decide to wall up in order to prevent further madness. Alone, I was almost in tears when I read the description of the old knight getting out of bed and going to look for his books, and being unable to find the rom in which he kept them. That was for me the perfect nightmare: to wake up and discover that place in which I kept my books had vanished, making me feel I no longer was who I thought I was. Gregor Samsa submits to the metamorphosis, to his loss of self; Don Quixote instead, in order to continue to be Don Quixote bravely accepts the explanation that an evil enchanter has spirited his library away. By assuming the fantasy, he remains faithful to his imagined self.”

“Reading Don Quixote, I’m distracted by the world Cervantes has recreated and pay little attention to the unfolding of the story. The landscape through which the two adventurers travel, their daily conflicts, their pain and grim and hunger and friendship are so powerfully real that I forget that they follow a narrative, and simply enjoy their company.”

Four of the most memorable weather experiences in my life have happened in Canada:  this blizzard; the northern lights in Manitoba; a tornado in Saskatchewan; a storm coming up from the Pacific, seen from the librarian’s house perched on a cliff above Campbell River, British Columbia.”

“Perhaps the great literary characters are those few who will always escape our full understanding. The unbearable Lear bringing his hundred cronies to his daughter’s house, the love-dejected Dante obsessed by a young girl he has met only briefly, the trouble-prone, delusional Don Quixote beaten and stoned for persisting in his delusions—why do they move us to tears, why do they haunt us, why do they intimate that this life makes sense after all, in spite of everything? They offer no reason; they demand that we believe, acknowledge, affirm their existence, ‘upon oath.’”

“Marguerite Yourcenar: ‘Our true birthplace is that in which we cast for the first time an intelligent eye on ourselves. My first homelands were my books.’”