This was an interesting piece I stumbled upon sometime in the past weeks, I no longer remember how, in my wanderings around the blogosphere. It’s a chapter from a longer work called The History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. The excerpted chapter is called “The Silent Readers” and is a fascinating survey of the historical shift from the once-universal practice of reading everything aloud to the now almost as universal practice of reading silently.
It takes us from the description of an encounter between Sts. Augustine and Ambrose all the way to Ralph Waldo Emerson silently reading Pascal’s Pensees and draws a fascinating connection between the practice of reading silently and the Protestant Reformation.
I remembered from my high school Latin classes that our teacher had told us that in the ancient world the norm was to read aloud and that those who read silently were considered strange. But this piece takes a much closer look and was full of all sorts of interesting little tidbits of historical trivia.
I was especially captivated by the author’s musing on what the great Library at Alexandria must have been like with all those people reading aloud from all those books. Very different from our ideal of the silent hallowed halls. (Though perhaps a bit more like the Common Room’s description of a modern library, especially in summer with all the kids on vacation.)
Delightful. I think I may have to hunt down a copy of the full book.
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