Read And Be Happy: Daniel Pennac’s “The Rights of The Reader”

9781406300918 I don’t know about you, but I go in and out of periods of intense reading.  When I’m writing, especially if new material, I tend to not read much.  It’s as if I don’t have the desire or use for the voices of others; I am much too engaged with my own.

I also, like many writers, fear that if I immerse myself in the words of another while I am creating my own, that I will lose my voice, and that I cannot afford to do. But when I am not writing new material, when I am revising or submitting, I read a good deal.  Widely, and in my own fashion, a fashion that has over the years given me pause.

I pick up and I put down, I start and stop, I skip pages (sometimes entire chapters), switch from genre to genre, reread old favorites or things I didn’t understand well or appreciate the first time.  I have even been known to skip to the end of a novel or short story, answer the inevitable “what happens?” question, return to the start and proceed to read the story at a more leisurely pace, appreciating more the author’s craft as I am not locked into a what-in-the-world-happens-next mindset.

Worse (in the eyes of some I suppose) I have even occasionally read an article backward.  Yes, jumped ahead to the end in order to quickly pick up the author’s main conclusions, and worked my way backward to get the argument. In one day I can shift from rereading an old childhood favorite to skimming The New York Times to cracking the latest tome on the eternal Middle East morass, and then return to the childhood novel.

I know, it can sound embarrassing.

But this is how I read, and this is how I’ve always read.  Don’t get me wrong; I sometimes start a book, fiction or non, and read it through to the end, page by page, after first duly skimming its contents, chapter titles, and such, just as we were taught to do. But it is not my preferred, or natural, way to read.  And I’ve managed to do very well over the years reading in my own way, earning multiple degrees, all the while merrily reading as I like.

So imagine my delight years ago to come across a short side-bar in a publication recounting French author Daniel Pennac’s call to arms to liberate reading and readers, his Rights of The Reader.  I clipped the little article and hung it up, using a magnet to afix it to my refrigerator door, where the clipping stayed for years, until it became lost or misplaced, I can’t remember which. But recently I recalled it, and wondered if I’d imagined such a clipping and its contents.

I looked it up, et voila!  Daniel Pennac is a very real fellow and accomplished writer, and his ten “rights of the reader” are contained at the end of a delightful book he wrote entitled The Rights of The Reader.

The book, published in 1992, in French, as Comme Un Roman and later translated into English by Sarah Adams, illustrated by Quentin Blake, and published as The Rights of The Reader (Candlewick Press 2008) is a series of popular and entertaining reflections and recommendations on reading and how to encourage the love of reading, especially among the young–a topic never more relevant than today.

Pennac, teacher, novelist, and essayist, believes passionately that people do not read if they do not enjoy reading. And that we–as parents, teachers, librarians, and through our self-imposed notions of how a “good reader” reads, kill the joy of reading by buying into odd ideas of how, when, and in what manner one “should read”.

Here, then, are Pennac’s ten rights of the reader, found at the end of his book:

1. The right to not read

2. The right to skip pages

3. The right to not finish

4. The right to reread

5. The right to read anything

6. The right to read escapism (“Bovarysme”)

7. The right to read anywhere

8. The right to browse

9. The right to read aloud

10.The right to not defend your tastes

Aren’t these marvelous, and liberating? Take them to heart, share them, and most important, pass them on to young readers.

And enjoy reading!


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5 responses to “Read And Be Happy: Daniel Pennac’s “The Rights of The Reader”

  1. J

    I don’t read enough to cultivate a deeper inner life; how do I follow the words in my end of day fatigue?

  2. wellcraftedtoo

    Comment from Stu Alt, 11/6/14:

    I like those “rights”. It reinforces my belief that more people should simply read – anything. Perhaps we wouldn’t have such an ignorant society.

    That also reminded me of the novel Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar which could be read straight through but also had an alternative reading order that jumped around among chapters.


  3. racheltejas

    I have what I’ve always considered “undisciplined” reading habits, as if how quickly I read is some sort of moral statement about my intelligence or devotion to the life of the mind. I love the list! It’s pithy and reminds us that simply engaging with language and the ideas of others is what it’s all about. Cheers – Rachel

    • wellcraftedtoo

      Glad you enjoyed this, Rachel!

      I’ve always just loved this list as well, and I think many can relate to Pennac’s openness and freshness.

      Thanks for commenting!

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