The Ideal Reader: Quirks and Perks

The ideal reader according to Alberto Manguel in “A Reader on Reading”.

The ideal reader wishes both to get to the end of the book and to know that the book will never end.
Alberto Manguel, A Reader on Reading

In the chapter titled Notes Towards the Definition of an Ideal Reader, Manguel lists around seventy, sometimes contradictory (or paradoxical?), statements about the ideal reader. He’s onto something.

Today’s quote is an example of an extended chiasmus, a figure where the word order of two parallel structures is inverted. To get to the end mirrors will never end, and the doubled book is mirror-sandwiched between the two.

The last item of his list is worth noting.

Literature depends, not on ideal readers, but merely on good enough readers.

For, after all, ideals are fictional, and even then they’re not quite so ideal. Better leave them to mathematics (ring theory, in particular).


Reading recommendations

  1. A Reader on Reading, Alberto Manguel. Because you’re curious about readers and books.
  2. The ReaderBernhard Schlink. (In English translation, original is in German.) Because you’ve heard it’s a good book, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. “‘A thriller, a love story and a deeply moving examination of a German conscience’ [Independent on Saturday].”
  3. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke. (In English translation, original is in German.) Because you haven’t read a good children’s book (9-12) in a while, in which reading is magical activity. Mind you, 563 pages is no doddle, we’re talking serious literature here.


Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

8 thoughts on “The Ideal Reader: Quirks and Perks”

    1. Glad to hear you like Manguel’s book. Have you read anything else by him, and if so which of his books would you recommend? Presently, I’m reading his Library at Night, and I know he has other good ones.

      (As for The Reader—just to clarify, in case it seemed like I was comparing it to Manguel’s book—it’s a good book, but it’s fiction and deals with tough topics.)


      1. Yes, you’re right about The Reader– it’s a heavy topic. I’ve picked it up a few times, but never read it, or even seen the movie. It’s on the list now, along with another few dozen books. As they say, so many books, so little time. 🙂

        I’ve also read “Reading Pictures” by Manguel, but I’m not sure I’d recommend that one. His book about Borges looks interesting — huge Borges fan here.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alright, good to know about “Reading Pictures”. There’s also “A History of Reading” by Manguel, which I’m considering.

        As for Borges: I hadn’t noticed “With Borges”. It’s going on my To-Read list, thank you. Speaking of which, I’m a shameless fan of the Latin American brand of magical realism (loosely speaking, I’m not trying to corral anyone strictly). I’ve enjoyed Gabriel García Márquez, Felisberto Hernández, and now I’m investigating Roberto Bolaño’s work. I’m actually rereading Borges’s “Labyrinths” momentarily — each time there’s something new, something to learn. Anyone like him that you’ve read and enjoyed? (Although I know he was the “master of the short form” so there probably aren’t many “like” him …)


      3. I can’t think of anyone really like Borges, unfortunately. Now, I’m no expert, and I can only read Latin American writers in translation, so that doesn’t help. Off the top of my head, my other favorite would be GGM, though he’s very different. I enjoy Carlos Fuentes, too — I took a class from him — but also very different than Borges in style and preoccupation.

        Eudora Welty or William Faulkner are Americans who arguably could be put into a magical realism camp, at times, if you stretch the concept. I think Borges may be a little like Kafka, perhaps? And how about Flaubert — okay, very different, really a hyper realist, but something about Flaubert rings a bell for me when I think about Borges.

        Oh dear, I’m really bad at this. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, wow, thanks! I looked up Fuentes, and I hadn’t every thought of Faulkner or Flaubert in that light. I too read the Latin American writers in translation, but Kafka I read in the original and … well, his works are a bit depressing for my taste! But I see what you mean in terms of the magical component — good comparison, I think Borges saw Kafka as an influence? (Half-remembering what I read in the introduction to the “Labyrinths”.)

        Thanks for digging up these names: you’ve helped bring them to the fore of my reading horizon 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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