Those of you who await my blog posts (tell me there some of you! Please!) will have noticed my recent absence (tell me you have noticed my absence! Please!). In the past three weeks, I have been moving house, my books have been stashed unpleasantly in cardboard boxes, and I have also been Not Very Well At All. Despite these arguably justifiable reasons, I have been genuinely wracked with guilt for not reading for so long, on top of the guilt of causing true depths of sadness among those of you who await my blog posts and noticed my recent absence (tell me I caused true depths of sadness! Oh…).
So I picked up French author Daniel Pennac’s almost-25-year-old defence of reading for pleasure to seek some justification for my neglectful behaviour. Accompanied by Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations, Pennac tracks the rise and fall of young people’s affection for reading, from the joy of being read bedtime stories as a child, to the fear of reading borne from the forced-reading of Very Important Books at school purely to pass exams, and then the heroic way in which some teachers can re-ignite that childhood love for reading through, for example, reading aloud to their students.
Pennac then sets out ten ‘Rights of the Reader’ which are founded on the basic but often forgotten principle that reading should be an enjoyable activity, rather than a chore. For me, his particular gems were the right to skip those parts of books which drag a bit (especially as he himself admits to skipping the agrarian treatises that seem to plague many a Russian novel), the right not to finish a book, the right to read anything (which made me feel less ridiculous for reading The Devil Wears Prada, although I only finished it as I felt obliged to, so maybe I should have followed Pennac’s advice and saved myself 360 pages of pain), and the right to dip in (something my dad does with the legions of books we buy him, that seemingly go unread, but which have been devoured in a more round about way via the art of the occasional dip-in). The most important thing is that we all have the right not to read, as long as it is by choice, and not because an exam-wielding, rigid-intrepretation-of-a-book-spouting education system puts us off:
Because, while it’s fine for someone to reject reading, it’s totally unacceptable that they should be – or feel that they have been – rejected by reading. To be excluded from books, even the ones you can do without, is terribly sad: a solitude within a solitude.
Now, I don’t think I am going to start suddenly skipping parts of books I don’t like, or not finishing books, because the strange puritan work ethic that has dogged me since I was about five cannot be rumbled so easily. But thanks Pennac, you made me feel a whole lot better about the past couple of weeks.
P.S. I will give 50p to anyone who says they missed me. Not that I’m needy.