Review - books on reading

Every day, Guylain Vignolles catches the 6.27 train to a job in a factory that destroys books. He secretly  rescues pages from the pulping machine, dries them out and on his daily commute reads aloud from random sheets. He finds an enthusiastic audience, hope and an unexpected opportunity for love. The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (Mantle ), a best seller in France, deftly translated by Roz Ssvwartz celebrates the redemptive power of books.

Is it only the French who have a passion for writing about reading? Raymond Jean’s novella La Lectrice (Reader for Hire) was first published in 1986 and, two years later, was made into a successful film starring Miou-Miou. Peirene Press has just brought out a brilliant English translation by Adrian Hunter. In Reader for Hire a young woman, Marie-Constance, reads to a partially paralysed teenager, a widow with revolutionary sympathies and a lonely businessman with comic, erotic and sometimes disastrous consequences.

In The Republic of Imagination, (William Heinemann) the Iranian writer Azar Nafisi (now living in the US) mixes memoir with fiction to demonstrate the importance of fiction. She underlines that ‘imaginative knowledge’ is indispensable to the formation of a democratic society and suggests that our view of fiction reflects how we define ourselves as a nation. Nafisi interweaves details of her own life with detailed readings of favourite novels from her adopted home, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Originally published in The Tablet