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A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books

by Alberto Manguel

Alberto Manguel’s latest literary offering takes readers through a year of rereading some of this ever erudite and eclectic reader’s favourite books. Between June 2002 and May 2003, Manguel explored such unlikely literary bedfellows as children’s classics Kim and The Wind in the Willows, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Margaret Atwood’s Canlit classic Surfacing, and Latin American works by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.

A Reading Diary is also part daybook, personal diary, and travelogue, in the process delving deep into Manguel’s passion for the book and the written word in general. Especially powerful are Manguel’s insights into these much-loved texts and the way books and reading reflect not just the inner life of the mind but also how they help us to navigate the world – in Manguel’s case, through the nightmares of Argentina’s political past that still haunt him and the trauma of the post-911 world.

Manguel makes wonderful connections between his chosen texts and a host of others. He’s also a playful reader, enjoying the way that different writers use words to explore a host of different ideas, emotions, and passions, while trying to help his own readers find their own special and unique connections to books.

There’s a wonderful haphazardness to the entries that makes the reader feel privy to what are surely Manguel’s most honest reflections on these books. It is too bad that he doesn’t explain why he’s chosen these particular books for the diary, and that he doesn’t comment, for the most part, on how these rereadings are different from other readings or rereadings (as in the case of The Wind in the Willows, which he notes he’s read several times). There’s also little sense of why these books stand out any more or less than the other titles he touches on in the diary.

Like recent books on reading and rereading by Wendy Lesser and Michael Dirda, A Reading Diary is interesting and insightful but ultimately leaves the reader wanting something with just a little more meat on the bone.