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Posts Tagged ‘Alberto Manguel’

After The Truth about Stories, I re-read The City of Words to once again focus my mind away from such questions as “why does milk taste funny after eating a slice of pineapple?” This marks the third time I’m writing about The City of Words on this blog. There’s just so much there to discuss.

In this case, I want to share some of Alberto Manguel’s thoughts on stories, the state, and the publishing industry, and discuss how they relate to fantastika. Manguel works from the following premise:

Language lends voice to the storytellers who try to tell us who we are; language builds out of words our reality and those who inhabit it, within and without the walls; language offers stories that lie and stories that tell the truth. Language changes with us, grows stronger or weaker with us, survives or dies with us. The economic machineries we have built requires language to appeal to its consumers, but only on a dogmatic, practical level, deliberately avoiding literature’s constant probing and interrogation. The endless sequence of readings of Gilgamesh or Don Quixote opens realms of meaning on countless subjects…all of which may at some point entail a questioning of power and call for the resolution of injustice. To sustain the run of the machineries, those in office will often attempt to curb and control this multiplicity of reading in many ways[…] This censorship…takes place in many ways, from the most dramatic to the most covert. […] In every case, its aim is to prevent the telling of true stories. (125)

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(This a follow-up to my review of The City of Words)

I’ve come to realize that major part of why I liked The City of Words so much has to do with the author’s background. Alberto Manguel was born in Argentina, but immigrated to Canada in 1982 and thus speaks from the immigrant experience. Like me, he has navigated his fractured identity through literature and writing. I’m not sure how many immigrants actually deal with identity this way; it’s one of those things that might make Manguel’s work appealing to me, but probably outside the experience of others.

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Alberto Manguel, The City of Words, Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2007.

It’s become a cliché to call a book “thought-provoking” these days. Just about any non-fiction book gets the label. Yet I think there’s a big difference between a book that provokes thoughts of your own, and one that tells you what to think. I’m going to use the former definition, obviously, and so I can say without much reservation that The City of Words by Alberto Manguel is the most thought-provoking book I’ve read in a long while. Perhaps because Manguel raises plenty of questions, but provides few if any answers (as we might say, it’s the Question that’s the thing). Some people are going to be frustrated by this, but Manguel’s roundabout way of dealing with the subject illustrates something pretty important about literature as a whole and its relationship with society: stories change us by opening up multiple avenues of thought, allowing for multiple readings and interpretations by which the experience of the author and the experience of the reader intermingle in a rare way.

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