'A famous children's book programme on the BBC always started with
the host asking, "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin." The
ideal reader is also the ideal sitter,'
Could this mean us because that's me alright and I'll bet it's you too.
Or how about
'The ideal reader is a cumulative reader: every reading of a book adds new layers of memory to the narrative.'
Well that's us too isn't it.
'The ideal reader judges a book by its cover.'
'Every book, good or bad, has its ideal reader.'
'The ideal reader wishes both to get to the end of the book and to know that the book will never end.'
You see how well Alberto Manguel knows us all... it's as if he's been round for tea and we've chatted it all through with him and it's all in his stunning new book which has arrived from Yale University Press and which has required my undivided attention for a while now, A Reader on Reading.
It was The Library At Night, Alberto Manguel's last book which really tuned me into his writing, and perhaps because it was a book in which he shared so much of himself and his passion for books and reading. If only I'd though to cite Alberto Manguel on 'that' radio programme on Criticism when Toby Young questioned the existence of such a thing as a passion for reading.
As I recall it was the little things that helped me identify with Alberto Manguel and that precious sanctity of a room in which to enjoy books that he wrote about and which I too am very fortunate enough to have, but which can equally be that 'reading space, it doesn't have to be a room with books floor to ceiling.What matters more is that the space allows for the experience that books offer,
'...books grant us myriad possibilities: the possibility of change, the possibility of illumination...'
'My library consists half of books I remember and half of books I have forgotten. Now that my memory is not as keen as it used to be, pages fade as I attempt to conjure them up. Some vanish from my experience entirely, unrecalled and invisible. Others haunt me temptingly with a title or an image, or a few words out of context.'
Or the fact that Alberto Manguel also has some clutter on his desk that would mean nothing to anyone else'...talismans that have washed onto my desk over the years.'
I have little huddles of 'talismans' which is what I shall now call them.
In amongst it all my Jane Austen figure standing next to my world-in-a-bowl containing a stone from every river across the world that the Kayaker has paddled. It's becoming a sort of fount of all rivers so the Zambezi and the White Nile sit comfortably with the Fraser and the Dart.
A Reader on Reading is a collection of Alberto Manguel's essays on both reading and writing, and as I browsed through (and even a browse took me a couple of hours) I was transfixed by one piece in particular from which I have quoted above, Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader.
The piece comprises a series of statements and though they only extend to four pages I still haven't finished reading them, because each time I try I grind to a halt at one which digs so deep that I have to think about it, read it over again and, in thinking how it relates to my own reading life, let my mind wander off on a frivol of readerly insight.
The scope and depth of the essays is both broad and profound; as you'd expect there is intellectual gravitas here so this will be no quick read and it will open up many reading trails. Early indications suggest that some are anecdotal and experiential, others speak of reading and books in more general terms, several with precision and specialist knowledge, as when Alberto Manguel writes about Homer or Jorge Luis Borges or Cervantes.
I've barely scraped the surface of a book that seems to ask for really slow and careful deliberate reading of me and that is exactly what I shall offer it.
Underpinning it all the continuous thread of Alberto Manguel's favoured childhood reading, in particular Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as if acknowledging the book that launched him on his life's reading journey.
So heaven knows how long it will take me to get to the end of Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Reader piece for a start, especially when Alberto Manguel quotes Goethe,
'There are three kinds of readers: one, who enjoys reading without judging; a third, who judges without enjoying ; another in the middle, who judges while enjoying and enjoys while judging. The last class truly reproduces a work of art anew; its member are not numerous.'
I was tangled up thinking about that for an age.
But my favourite by far...and fellow marginalia fiends, after hearing about Penelope Fitzgerald last week and now this, well the evidence is really stacking up in our favour...
...and my response?
Now scroll down for gifts which I think all you 'ideal readers' might be very excited about.