Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac

I don't remember who in the blogosphere read this and blogged about it, but whoever it was, thank you, thank you, thank you. This little book is an absolute gem. The only thing I'm angry about it that I read it back in February and still haven't written anything about it... I felt so passionate about it as I was reading it and when I was done and now the passion has died down and it bothers me that this post will be flat.

Ah well.

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.


seagreen reader said...

I will definitely get a copy of this book. I'm trying to get my son to love reading as much as I do.

Falaise said...

Thanks for this. I will definitely get a copy of this as it looks like Mini-Falaise is getting ready to start forming words.

Anonymous said...

I thought this book had been published in English with the title "Reads Like a Novel". Is this a new translation, or maybe just a new edition? Anyway.
I completely agree about its awesomeness! And it's one of those books readers want to go around and show to everyone, saying "See? I'm not a geek! Reading is cool!"
Let me thank you for naming the translator in your post. It's always good when someone recognizes a translator's work.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I think Andre is afraid I'll put too much pressure on any future kids to get them to love books as I do.

I like that this book seems to offer tips. Thanks for the heads-up Joanna!

Erin said...

Nice review! I read The Rights of the Reader about 6 months ago and LOVED it. Such a gem. Glad you loved it, too!

joanna said...

Joanne - I hope you find it as wonderful as I did!

Falaise - Oh! Almost talking already, how fun! :-)

scribacchina - I think "Reads like a novel" is the exact translation from the French, but they published the English version under this name? I don't know and it doesn't matter, as long as I somehow discovered it and can share its magic with you guys!

Alex - you'll love this book about loving books, I'm sure!

Erin - it IS a gem, I don't know why I don't come across it more often!