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The Rights of the Reader
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The Rights of the Reader

The Rights of the ReaderThe Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a gem. Something that any reader will hold close to their heart. The essays are translated from the original French work by the educator Daniel Pennac. The book is full of amazing quotes. Some of my favorites:

“Time to read is always time stolen. Stolen from what? From the tyranny of living.”

“By making time to read, like making time to love, we expand our time for living.”

I particularly loved Part 3 – “The Gift of Reading” – where he describes a classroom of high school students – the stereotypes of “the loner”, “the prep”, “the goth”, etc. and how when the teacher [him] decides to read aloud to them for the entire class. It is his experiment to get them hooked. He chooses Süskind’s Perfume with its lively descriptions, and the teens, all of them, instantly become hooked.

The last few essays are also great, where he discusses the “Rights of the Reader” (the book is named after this series of essays). He outlines 10 Rights that each reader inherently possesses. He goes on to write short essays about all of them:

1 – The right not to read.

2 – The right to skip.

3 – The right not to finish a book.

4 – The right to read it again.

5 – The right to read anything.

6 – The right to mistake a book for real life.

7 – The right to read anywhere.

8 – The right to dip in.

9 – The right to read aloud.

10 – The right to be quiet.

A perfect book for a literature class – or a continuing education course. I highly recommend it.

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There is a sense of liberty and empowerment when a teacher writes a list like this.  As an avid reader, I have exercised my *right* to each of these 10 things, and I imagine that you have too.

The right NOT to read?  Well, I guess that could be the few books that I sat out on for my old book club.  Things that just didn’t float my boat, so I opted out. The right to skip? I exercise this one ALL the time.  Of course, once a text comes to me in book form, I have to believe that dozens of eyes have read the same thing I am reading – so why does it often feel like everyone forgot their red editorial marker?  So yeah, I totally skip.  The right to NOT finish a book? I usually give books a 50 page limit.  If it has come highly recommended by a trusted friend, maybe 100 pages… I just abandoned a book the other day.  Got through Part I with relative ease, and then what? Part II was a mess.  Close cover. No more. I have plenty of other things to keep my engaged.  The right to read it again?  I will admit that I don’t exercise this one that much.  I rarely read a book twice (children’s books read aloud to my nieces don’t count!) but I understand why people do it.  I have often contemplated reading a beloved series again (most recently Harry Potter and The Hunger Games), but I haven’t done it yet.

The right to read anything?  I have a long history of reading cereal boxes and shampoo bottles and ingredient lists and technical instructions just because … just this morning I read the how-to instructions on my new can opener.  The right to mistake a book for real life?  I often think that if a fictional character was REAL, we would be great friends.  Or I get that feeling that an author might be speaking to me directly, so I think that counts!  The right to read anywhere?  ha – yeah, I told you I read shampoo bottles, so you can figure out WHERE I was while doing that.  The right to dip in?  Tied to the right to skip… dip in and read one essay, and yep, that’s all the fix I need.  The right to read aloud?  When something has to be shared, you have to read it aloud. I sometimes whisper the words to myself though, as I am reading along. Or reading aloud for emphasis and memorization.  The right to be quiet?  Sometimes you read something so moving that you simply have nothing to say.  That’s okay too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these – please share your experiences!



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10 Responses

  1. Mandy

    Awesome! I’ve recently re-read some books, and I hadn’t done that in a while. Jerry was reading the HP books for the first time, so I read them all again. It was like reading them for the first time! I also read The Book Thief again recently. Totally worth it.

    I’m terrible about not finishing books, so I’m glad to know it’s my inherent right as a reader. :)

  2. Joy

    Wow – great post! Thanks for putting it so well. Sounds like another book to add to my stack ;)

  3. Josiane

    I used to own that book (in French), but I’ve lent it to a friend and never saw it again. I hope it went on to reach more people who needed to read it!

    I have difficulty granting myself some of those rights, especially the ones that involve skipping parts of a book or abandoning it. Life is short, I know, and yet I can’t bring myself to do it – what if I was missing that one sentence that would stick with me and change everything? Still, I seem to do better on that front than I used to, as evidenced by the fact that it’s happened a few times in the past couple of years that I’ve returned books unread to the library. I can always go and pick them back up later if they ever start calling my name louder!

  4. Mary

    Definitely agree with all the “rights” and have exercises them all. Reading out loud is something I now do on long car trips. It actually manages to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak: 1) my husband says it makes the ride more enjoyable; and 2) I don’t have to freak out watching my husband drive. Made it around the DC beltway yesterday afternoon without ever having to gasp at being cut off by insane drivers. Helps if you are reading something snarky like Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent : Travels in Small Town America.”

  5. Cassy

    I love this post. I especially like the “right to NOT finish a book” laid out. I sometimes feel guilty about this one. I listen to a lot of audio books (still reading, right?) and some of them I just can’t finish. I’m much more ruthless with paper books, which I usually get from the library, but when I purchase them, it’s harder to abandon them. There are too many other delicious books to consume though.

  6. idiosyncraticeye

    This sounds very interesting, oh and “The right to read anything? I have a long history of reading cereal boxes and shampoo bottles and ingredient lists and technical instructions just because … just this morning I read the how-to instructions on my new can opener. “, I’m with you there! A readaholic! :)

  7. virgi

    My mum gave me this book as a Xmas present when I was 16.
    Pennac is very famous in Italy (by then I had read the whole set of book about Benjamin Malaussene and anything else published in Italian).
    The fact nobody of my English speaking friends or any blog I read ever talked about Pennac drove me nuts for ages, so you can’t imagine my happiness at reading your post!
    It felt like a virtual “ah-ah! here it is! Told you he’s great!”.
    I think the translation in Italian of right #6 was better. In French is “Le droit au bovarysme (maladie textuellement transmissible) “, “the right to bovary-ism (a textually contagious disease)”: I found it hilariously liberating as a teenager (and not only as that).

    I can’t quote it right now, but there’s is a point in the book about why we read and Pennac says that we don’t read “for”, but “against”.
    Against society and its expectations. Against our family. Against death. Against time.
    It makes us feel rebellious, against time and society. He wrote something about how the trains coaches taking us to work, to what we’re expected to, become our refuge to rebel against our duty to live as society wants us to.

  8. Christabel

    I love the list of the rights of the reader! I too am a compulsive and automatic reader of anything and everything, only compounded since going vegan and reading all those ingredient lists! I am getting better at choosing to abandon a book if I’m not enjoying it: life’s too short!

  9. Seanna Lea

    I reread books all the time. Sometimes I just want a comfortable friend to take with me while I am in the midst of something stressful and these tried and true books just work for me. I don’t skip books very often, but it is happening more often as I get older. When I was younger I was definitely a completionist, and I felt tremendous guilt when I couldn’t finish a book, even books I didn’t have any reason to be reading.
    I used to read the dictionary. It went along with the cereal boxes and the ingredient lists and shampoo bottles, etc. Unfortunately, I was teased mercilessly for the dictionary thing.

  10. MaryToo

    Now I don’t feel my reading habits are “weird” – not that I ever needed permission, but it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone.

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