Book Reviews

The Rights of the Reader : Daniel Pennac

A few quick words of introduction for this one. I’ve been looking at art books all this week and I wondered whether to include The Rights Of The Reader in that. And I think that I can (well, that’s self-evident what with this post existing and all) but to be more precise, I think that because of several things.

Art is about connecting. Words are art. Language is art. Sometimes text, language and words can be the most beautiful of things (look at Jenny Holzer or my beloved Barbara Kruger for examples of this). The concept of viewing, of looking at something and being part of it, being engaged in the moment of it and engaging in the transactional nature of this giving, of the performance, is something that translates from word to art to theatre to busking on the street corner with your friends during the Summer holidays.

Art is about viewing. Art is about being.

And sometimes it’s about being very, madly, immensely inspired.


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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fiery, passionate and beautiful, vividly eloquently so, Pennac’s fine book on the rights of the reader should be mandatory. I’ve read a lot of it before in extracts, or in the very fine poster that’s available which features the ten rights of the reader, but I’ve never read the whole thing. Which is a shame, really, but it’s something that I’ve rectified and I would urge you, if you have any interest in reading or pedagogy or cultural attitudes towards literacy, to not hold off in getting a copy of this. It’s very good. Hugely good.

So where to begin with this revalatory little book? Perhaps we begin with the quotes that I have pulled from it, feverishly underlining sections and folding down the corners, the quotes that have resonated with me and made me realise that I do not want to let this book go.

On reading aloud:

“Reading a story every evening … was a moment of communion between us, of textual absolution, a return to the only paradise that matters: intimacy. Without realizing it, we were discovering one of the crucial functions of storytelling and, more broadly speaking, of art in general, which is to offer a respite from human struggle.” (33)

On re-reading books with your children:

“Reading again isn’t about repeating yourself, it’s about offering fresh proof of a love that never dies” (58)

On reading:

“If reading isn’t about communication, it is, in the end, about sharing. But a deferred and fiercely selective kind of sharing” (87)

On not reading:

“While it’s fine for someone to reject reading, it’s totally unacceptable that they should be – of feel that they have been rejected by reading.

“To be excluded from books, even the ones you can do without, is terribly sad: a solitude within solitude” (151)

I could pull a thousand quotes from this book and keep going, I think, I could wave it in the faces of a thousand people and demand for it to be obigatory reading on a thousand curricula and I think a part of me would if I could. If I could.

And perhaps I can. Perhaps we all can. Because, when you choose to read something, when you choose to let it into your life, your world, you, you let it change you. You accept that it will. You need it. You might not know it, you might not be able to even conceptualise it, but something, deep down inside of you, needs it. Wants it. Longs for it.

This book makes me feel like I can move mountains.

View all my reviews

Everything else

The rights of the reader #childrensbookweek

This week it’s been Children’s Book Week (Twitter hashtag) and it would be remiss if we didn’t mention it at DYESTTAFTSA Towers. Because, you know, books! Books are good! And if you’ve not got that yet, then frankly I need to sit you down and have a good talk with you 😉

So I think I want to talk about reading and talk about it alongside the work of Daniel Pennac. Pennac is a writer that I came across thanks to Library Mice, and he’s one that I really enjoy. His book The Rights of The Reader is seminal and inspirational. In it, he talks about ‘The Rights Of the Reader’. This manifesto is something that needs to be savoured and can be viewed as a lovely poster here (which is illustrated by Quentin Blake! Quentin Flipping Lovely Blake!).

And from that, and because I’ve been thinking about reading and our responsibilities and impacts as readers, I thought I’d share with you the DYESTTAFTSA Guide To Reading (patent pending).

1. You are allowed to be selfish. You are allowed to wallow in a book and let the world slide by. You are allowed to read it on the toilet, at lunch, on the bus. You are allowed to make time for it.

2. You are allowed to read how and what you want to read and when to read it. Whether that reading is Minecraft manuals, a graphic novel, or Dostoyevsky, you are allowed to read it online, in paper, written in felt-tip on toilet paper, and sometimes to read nothing at all.

3. You are allowed to own the work, to remix it and remake it in your own shape. I’m talking about taking the words and the characters out of the book and imagining them in the real world, about playing The Tiger Who Came To Tea and fighting about who gets to be the Tiger, about staring at a cupboard and wondering, just wondering, if Narnia’s inside.

4. You are allowed to dislike a book, to loathe it and detest it. And you are allowed this because you understand that your feelings are vital and important and have a right to exist, and be understood.

5. You are allowed to stand in Asda and talk your Dad through the new How To Talk To Your Dragon books and pick up the new David Walliams. You are allowed books and literature to be there, to be everywhere you turn, to be on a shelf at school, gleaming in a display at the library or shelved next to the tomatoes. You are allowed books to be a part of your world.

6. And you are allowed to fall in love. You are allowed to be true to yourself with Eva Ibbotson, dance in fields with Lorna Hill, and climb mountains with Brent-Dyer. You are allowed to be part of these worlds and you are allowed, quite truly, quite madly, to enjoy it.

7. You are allowed all of this. And more. And you are allowed it, wholly.