Tuesday 8 March 2011

To read is to own

'When a person we like gives us a book, we look for them first between the lines - for their tastes, for the reasons they thrust into our hands, for a sign of the bond between us.'
From The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac.

How is it that we feel we own the words we read? Is it to do with the fact that we have to think them as they pass through our brains en route from black marks to imagined scenes? Is it that here on the page is exactly what we've been trying to say? How can it be that when we share a book with another person, we feel we are giving them something of ourselves or showing that we recognise something in them?

Last week I heard author Mark Haddon talking about how his book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (or 'Curious' as he called it, which amused me) was one of the free books to be distributed by volunteers for World Book Day. He was asked how he felt about people choosing his book as a book they wanted to give to others. He replied that he didn't really feel that he owned the book any more, that it had gone out into the world and become its own thing, like a child leaving home. How odd, I thought. Would you not always feel that a book you had written belonged to you utterly? But then, authors do say that their books grow beyond them, with people reading far more in them than the author originally intended. And perhaps, once you have finished the creative process, the out-pouring, the honing, perhaps your mind is changed by the completion of the work, so you are not the same person you were when you were writing, you could never write it again, and so the book is no longer your own.


  1. An interesting thought, I guess as with any creative process, (the work of art, the knitted shawl, the musical piece) the physical ownership may pass with the giving but the emotion and pleasure gained from creating it is amplified in the seeing or hearing it after giving it to its new owners.

  2. I love it when they're gone.
    I suspect I'm much the same with the actual children...

  3. When I look back at something I wrote a long while ago (a poem, written ten years ago, for example)I think 'Thank God I'm not that person any more!'. I might (and do) still think the poem has merit as a poem standing on its own feet and metre but it is so far away from me now that it no longer feels part of me any more. And indeed, I am amazed that it could ever have been. Perhaps you just have a more constant soul?

  4. Mmm, well, like any works of art, I've never sought authorship for any goal, catch, dissertation, blog or posting to a newspaper, translation, etc. I've never written or published a book but publishing on blogs can be compared, can't it? As I get older I find I own nothing and even these words are being written through an internet connection that isn't mine, so how can I claim these tiny weeny bits of communication to be under my authorship. It's your blog claire so these words are yours!


What do you think?