In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

148 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 genres and periods, it offers a unified set of issues for class discussion. It would be an ideal starting point for students to talk about the economic, biographicat literary, and cultural forces which inspire narrative, and the way that narratives are inspired by otherstories. I speak onlyslightly in jest when I say we could use a sequel to this one! (CARRIE HINTZ) Alberto Manguel. Into the Looking-Glass Wood Knopf Canada. 288. $33.95 Despite the suggestive title and occasional attempts to tie the contents together, Alberto MangueYs Into the Looking-Glass Wood is simply a collection of reviews, talks, and essays written over the past decade while the author was also working on his novel Newsfrom aForeign Country Came, his best-selling A HistonJ of Reading, and the anthology of gay writing, Meanwhile, in Another Part of the Forest. Unlike academic critics, Manguel assumes the continuing existence of Dr Johnson's and Virginia Woolf's common reader. It is an assumption that allows him to write from the vantage point and with the confidence of a man of letters, with the various strengths and limitations ofsuch a stance. Another way of placing him and his essays would be to say that he would recognize Edmund Wilson and Sven Birkets as fellow travellers. Here, as in A History ofReading, Manguel offers a record of his engagements with the authors and books that have meant something to him. At the book's heart is Jorge Luis Borges, who is not only the subject of one of the best essays - 'Borges in Love' - but also the ghost in the essays on museums, South American literature, G.K. Chesterton, and Alice in Wonderland as well as perhaps in what could be called the serendipity quality of Manguel's mind that loves digressions and esoteric quotations and facts. Much as Manguel values readingsimplybecause ofthe various complex pleasures it provides for the reader, he also makes the more traditional humanist defence of it on the following grounds: 'I myself have always seen literature, its conversion through the act of reading, as a process of expansion in which the text becomes a palimpsest as I read through its words the many layers of my other rea9-ings. Even if this has had no immediate visible effect on our society, I still believe in the effectiveness of the "scribbles," because they empower the reader to act differently - to read "revenge," for instance, where another has written "forceful pursuit of justice./I , The more general pieces on censorship, desire, gay literature, and reading rarely surprise or break new ground, but they are engaging, thoughtful, and writtenin a style free of jargon. If they have a shortcoming, it is that they are simply too amiable, too willing to assume that 'all rightthinking readers' will agree with the writer's generally liberal views. In HUMANITIES 149 most instances, I found myself in agreement with the author, though his suggestion that Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany belong in the same catalogue of evil and injustice as McCarthy's America struck me as simply wrong, an ethical and political category error. The essays on writers and books have the virtue of making one want to read or reread the works discussed and praised. In one case, however, Manguel's enthusiasm for a writer - the neglected Canadian poet Richard Outram -leads him to fudge the evidence. In order to convince the reader that Outram is 'one of the finest poets in the English language,' Manguel misrepresents the poetry of his Canadian contemporaries by quoting very selectively from the New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse. The argument simply doesn't stand up, and Manguel does Outram, a fine minor poet, little good by overstating the case. Two small points are worth noting. Because Manguel avoids footnotes, it is impossible to check or follow up some of his more interesting quotations and references. Where, for instance, did Montesquieu say that 'Ignorance is the Mother of tradition'? And did Aquinas invent 'intention' as a rhetorical concept? Off hand, I recall only the intentiones that define the abstraction of universal meanings. Secondly, Into the Looking-Glass Wood is one of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 148-149
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.