Monday, September 28, 2009

The popular fear of what a reader might do

But not only totalitarian governments fear reading. Readers are bullied in schoolyards and in locker-rooms as much as in government offices and prisons. Almost everywhere, the community of readers has an ambiguous reputation that comes from its acquired authority and perceived power. Something in the relationship between a reader and a book is recognized as wise and fruitful, but it is also seen as disdainfully exclusive and excluding, perhaps because the image of an individual curled up in a corner, seemingly oblivious of the grumbling of the world, suggests impenetrable privacy and a selfish eye and singular secretive action. ("Go out and live!" my mother would say when she saw me reading, as if my silent activity contradicted her sense of what it meant to be alive.) The popular fear of what a reader might do among the pages of a book is like the ageless fear men have of what women might do in the secret places of their body, and of what witches and alchemists might do in the dark behind locked doors. Ivory, according to Virgil, is the material out of which the Gate of False Dreams is made; according to Sainte-Beuve, it is also the material out of which is made the reader's tower.

--Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

See also Manguel on Forbidden Reading, posted three years ago this week


  1. Ah, that's it...they're scared of us! ;->

    Much wisdom here. Thank you.

  2. You've reminded me that I meant to read this and had forgotten about it. I'm off to order it now. Thanks.

  3. Do people feel that way because they don't understand what we find so compelling between the pages of books, and thus fear it...? Great quote.

  4. Thanks for posting this-it made me think -what were the cultural revolution in China and the loss of about 2 million people in Cambodia if not a war against those in the reading life-having glasses was enough to get you killed-there are other examples that come to mind


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