The Rights of The Reader by Daniel Pennac

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. 


24 Comments Add yours

  1. eviepea48 says:

    I missed you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me know where to send the cheque!


  2. It’s certainly good to have you back!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hope you’re feeling better. I missed you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes on the mend now and ready to roll (almost) thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, that just transported me back to when I first read Pennac’s 10 commandment for the reader (I think I would have been about 12 at that time, and still religiously struggling to finish very annoying Jules Verne (some are appallingly boring, but let’s not say that too loud), and what a liberation it was! Still,it’s hard to get rid of the guilt of “giving up” on a book:) welcome back, hope you’re better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How lucky to have read this at 12! I bet it put you in good stead!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. B says:

    Yes! Yes! We missed you! Welcome back 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bookheathen says:

    I missed you too, but I don’t need the money either. Please send it to charity!!!
    [This book must be worth having for Quentin Blake’s illustrations if for no other reason.]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha! That’s good as I am running out of 50ps!

      Agree re Quentin Blake – the energy in his drawings is wonderful!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. edbucks16 says:

    Glad to have you back in action, Bronte. Oh, and huge congrats on the engagement too: definitely the best book-related engagement story I’ve ever heard! From someone who has recently spent an hour happily lost in a Dutch dictionary (yes, really) having been reading the excellent book Dubbel Dutch about quirks of the language and its various shades of meaning. I mean, if I’m going to learn all this vocab, surely it’s far more interesting to know how else I can say such and such a thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the congrats! You know, you simply have to write a review of the Dubbel Dutch book! The geek in me thinks ‘I know nothing of the dutch lang but that still sounds very interesting!’

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Weezelle says:

    I really liked this post! I really like the right to not finish a book – I strongly feel life is just too short for rubbish books, so I’m glad to have some empirical assurance on this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Me too. Pennac sort of pats you on the shoulder and says, ‘you’re not really enjoying that dear. Why not move on?’

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jan Hicks says:

    I skim read chunks of books when I’m getting frustrated. It’s rare that I give up on a book completely. I cast Tristram Shandy aside twice before I finally found myself in a head space where I was in tune with it. I’ve never read Pennac.

    Hope you’re feeling better and that your books are soon liberated from their temporary captivity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jan! Thew headspace point is an interesting one – there are some books that sit on my TBR shelves for an age but then suddenly a light bulb will go off and I’ll think ‘wow i really do have to read this now!’

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jan Hicks says:

        And isn’t it great when you become the reader the book needs you to be? I love that sense of wow!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hadn’t thought about it like that – but you’re right!


  10. This book sounds really interesting! I’m definately one of those people who feel obliged to finish a book, even if I’m not enjoying it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Goodness, me too. It’s exhausting and probably not a great use of time … but at least I feel I’ve given the book a chance, if you know what I mean.


  11. This post and this book should be required reading for every teacher and every officious school official and every parent who sets their kid in front of the TV instead of in their lap to read them a book. I still read aloud to/with my sons till they were each 13, even though both of them read well by six. Excellent article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Sharon- and I agree with you on the required reading front!

      Liked by 1 person

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