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If you ask me …

The Guardian, 27th April 2003

We ask writers to nominate the most underrated and overrated books. This week writer/director Michael Pennington

Underrated: A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

I know virtually no one who has read this magical and scholarly book. Did you know that one Vizier of Persia always travelled with 117,000 books carried by 400 camels walking alphabetically, or that our eyes jump wildly around the page four times a second as we read? Manguel’s celebration closes with a photograph of the bombed-out library of Holland House, three men still standing in it choosing books; they are not so much ignoring the war as persisting against all odds in their right to be astonished.

Overrated: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Supposedly sluiced away with out other guilty secrets from the 1970s, this still sells enough to qualify as overrated. To think we believed that when you work you are a flute through which the whispering hours turn to music, or that our children are only lent to us… speak to us, O Master, of mixed metaphor, specious paradox, phoney lyricism and hazy thinking, speak to us of tosh.

Michael Pennington is currently directing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and will appear in ‘The Seagull’ at the Edinburgh Festival.

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