Discussion: The Rights of the Reader

Posted July 30, 2018 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

I’m fairly sure a lot of people have heard of Daniel Pennac’s book, The Rights of the Reader, maybe without knowing quite where it comes from (since the book itself is originally in French). Quentin Blake’s illustrations help with that, given the posters of the rights plus his illustrations that you can get, and I know I have seen those around.

Anyway, if you’re curious you can read my review of the book here, which is mostly about getting kids reading instead of the rules’ general applicability, but this post is actually about the rights themselves. And here they are, illustrated by Quentin Blake (click to embiggen):

  1. The right not to read.
    Seems like good sense to me. Who wants to feel forced to read? There are some situations where I guess you do have to read the book, like literature classes. Even there, I think there should be room for wriggling. I did a crime fiction course at Cardiff University, and one of the books included was a transphobic, rapey mess with tortures lovingly described in practically every chapter. I did feel that maybe we should’ve at least been given some warning about that one.
    Also, you know that feeling where everyone’s been reading a book so you should hurry up and do it too? Yeah, I think this right covers that, too. Read what you want to, when you want to. In other words, Mum, I’ll read Republic of Thieves when I’m good and ready.
  2. The right to skip.
    Read the ending first? Skip a gross scene or a boring chapter? Skip ahead to your favourite bit? All good with me, I’m all for this right.
  3. The right not to finish a book.
    I know a lot of people don’t like not finishing a book, but I’m all for it — I’ve already done a discussion post about it. Again, I just don’t see the point in feeling forced to read something you’re not enjoying. Unless you’re sort of masochistic about books, I guess. Actually, Quentin Blake’s illustration looks like he’s thinking that means just waiting to finish a book you’re enjoying, and hey, that’s valid too.
  4. The right to read it again.
    Something I’m clearly for, if you hang around here at all. Again, I have a whole post on it.
  5. The right to read anything.
    Screw the idea of guilty pleasures or feeling weird because the book’s actually aimed at middle grade readers or whatever. Read for pure joy and if it makes you happy, that’s great.
  6. The right to mistake a book for real life. 
    “It me!” Also referred to in the book as “Bovary-ism”. Because who doesn’t want to imagine they’re an interdimensional Librarian? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what this one is meant to mean anymore, but if it means getting so caught up in a book it matters more than whatever else is on your plate, I’ve been there and done that and those are some of the absolute best books.
  7. The right to read anywhere.
    Okay, don’t do anything dangerous, but if you want to read sitting in the kitchen sink (high five if you know that reference) or while walking (with a careful eye on traffic) to work, then more power to you. I’ve read in bed, on trains, on planes, sitting on the stairs, sitting on a wall, sitting in the hall… and I’ve no doubt the list will keep growing.
  8. The right to dip in.
    Sounds a bit like the right to skip, to me. Actually, I’m kind of against this one for myself — I start at the beginning and go on until I come to the end, or give up. But hey, if you like reading random chapters or the middle book of a series, why not?
  9. The right to read out loud.
    I actually like to whisper the words to myself as I read. It’s not like I read to, and I read faster silently, but I love the shape and taste of words, and I kinda hate that I have to give that up in public for fear of being weird. (Also when my sister is in the room, because the whispers annoy her.)
  10. The right to be quiet.
    Nobody should disturb you when you’re reading.

I can think of some other ones, some more silly than others — the right to fill a book with bookmarks at strategic points while I’m reading so I can track my progress. The right to babble to others about the exciting thing I’m reading. The right to give other people books you think they’ll love. The right to differ from other people about a book (I’m sorry, I just don’t get some authors).

But really, it all comes down to one golden rule, which if you read my blog you can probably guess. Everyone deserves…


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6 responses to “Discussion: The Rights of the Reader

  1. I don’t do 2, 8 or 9. I never saw the point in reading the ending first or dipping and skipping parts! I don’t personally read out loud though I get why people might want to. I’m all for 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 and especially 10! When I’m reading, just leave me alone!!! As for 6, I’d replace that one with what you said about the right to have a different opinion to other people about a book. I do love the illustrations and I’ve love a poster of that on my bedroom door!

  2. Fantastic post, thanks Nikki. I can’t even be my usual picky self because I pretty much agree with your comments.

    As for reading aloud, I really want to do that with Shakespeare, Milton or Webster plays because that language only really works when spoken, I feel. And the same if I’m trying to read a French or Italian text, for example, the sense partly comes with rolling the sounds around in my mouth.

    That thing with bookmarks, that’s me too. And it has to be with bookmarks that are the right shape, design or even relevance…

    (PS: Dodie Smith. I’ll take that high five now. )

    • Oh hurrah! 😀 I spoke sense!

      Ooh, I’m glad it’s not just me (and my sister) who does the bookmark thing.

      (High five for you!)

  3. I read this book a few years ago and found it refreshing – a reminder of why I love to read. Sometimes I think of reading as something I ‘have’ to do, almost like a chore, and I forget that it’s something I actually like doing. These rights reminded me I can read in whatever way pleases me best – your golden rule sums it up nicely.

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