Sunday, February 13, 2005

#4 (Out of 50 Books I've Read This Year)

A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel. Technically, I started this one back in October but it's a long and very dense book but well worth the time and effort. Everything from a brief history of paper to anecdotes about book thieves is here, all of it providing a sense of continuity and kinship with the ever growing (or diminishing, depending on who you talk to) society of readers.

I was especially impressed with the story about how Saint Augustine found Ambrose, a fourth century patriarch, silently reading in his study one day. This was shocking to Augustine, because until then, the idea of reading silently was an alien concept. People then did not put faith in words on the printed page, only in words that they heard. This is not so surprising, when we stop to think that at the time, the world was still very much built on the oral tradition. Few could read and those who possessed the ability were usually priests and scholars whose primary duty was conveying information in an authoritative manner to everyone else. Something was only so if you heard it with your own ears.

Contrast this with today, where we only believe something if it is written down (or burning phosphor into our eyeballs) and we see what a profound effect literacy and reading in general has had on us as a civilization.

Update: I realised that counting down to 1 was sort of doing it backwards so I changed the numbers around, making this book #4, which means I'm really behind. I should be averaging a book a week, which means I should be at #6 by now. I've got some catching up to do.


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