Thursday, March 31, 2011
The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac
So, The Rights of the Reader. It is an amazing, enlightening book (or essay) on why people read and how we can get more people to like reading, starting from when they're kids. Pennac is a teacher, passionate about reading, and he does his best to pass his enthusiasm along. Successfully.
There are so, so many things he talked about that I want to mention, but I think that would mean re-typing the whole book here. So, I'll just talk about a few things.
Firstly, I loved how he talked about the time when a child is just learning to read. He (or she) loves when mommy and daddy read to him, he loves stories, he loves the magic. He also loves the magic of learning to read, the magic of words appearing on a page and meaning something that is beautiful. (Daniel Pennac describes these first moments of recognising words in an amazing, beautiful way, I could never do it justice here.) And then the child gets more comfortable reading on his own and his parents just leave him to it, happy that they have an extra ten minutes in the evening to do something of their own. But the child is still struggling and because that support, that reading companion is gone, some of the magic dies too. And some kids just never recover from this disappointment of reading and grow up to be adults who don't have time for books.
Then, Pennac talks about how we from the beginning distort the experience of reading by giving it inappropriate labels. Surely you're not meant to enjoy whatever you are assigned to read in school if adults make a difference between 'reading for school' and 'reading for pleasure'. Surely TV is a much more enjoyable pastime if punishment consists of 'no tv' and you're forced to sit quietly and do something boring, like read a book. This really struck a chord with me, perhaps because I am desperate to get Shane to like books.
The actual rights of the reader that Pennac talks about it are so thought-provoking. Like the right to skip over passages that don't speak to you. Isn't it better to enjoy parts of War and Peace than to not read it at all? Or the right to be read to out loud, even as an adult. For some people, this really turns reading into an incredible experience.
This is now getting pretty long, so I'll stop, but I strongly urge everyone who loves reading and who wants to encourage kids and teens to read more to get Pennac's book. It's a real treat.
And a last note - Daniel Pennac is a Frenchman and the book is written in his native French. It is translated into English by Sarah Hamp Adams.