‘The Rights Of The Reader,’ Daniel Pennac
In a bookshop containing thousands of books, how does one manage to arrest my roving eye? There are several effective tactics, but featuring illustrations by the legendary Quentin Blake, (and, indeed, just his unmistakeable font on the spine), is a good one. I had recently discovered a few unknown Roald Dahl’s and bought my first from his successor, David Walliams, and today I unearthed, bought, and read in swift succession this gem of a teacher’s/parent’s/reader’s manifesto from Frencman Daniel Pennac, excellently translated by Sarah Adams.
Pennac presents a four-part presentation of reading, and how children go from seeing it as something magical to something dreadful and drudgeful. The first part was my favourite: a tour of childhood, and how books at bedtime lead to the joy of reading for oneself which left me quite misty-eyed and nostalgic. Part Two sees students sinking beneath the weight of books which have become bricks, books chosen for them by their teachers, and these students learning to repeat what every teacher wants to hear: that ‘reading matters,’ even if they don’t really believe it. Part Three sees a solution: read aloud to students and children, no matter how old they are, epitomised by the image of the wonderfully pungent opening chapter of Patrick Süskind’s ‘Perfume’ being read to a class of wary students. Finally, we are presented in Part Four with Ten Commandments for readers:
“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 mistake a book for real life.
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 out loud.
10. The right to be quiet.”
The book is small, sharp and funny, (Pennac subtitles ‘The right to mistake a book for real life’ as “A Textually Transmitted Disease”), and perfectly accompanied by Blake’s scribblings. The magic of childhood reading is beautifully evoked, and points are supported by quotations on reading and education by authors as varied as Roussea, Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. It’s not surprising the book is now over two decades old: keep an eye out for it.