Books : reviews

Daniel Pennac.
The Rights of the Reader.
Walker Books. 2006

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 3 October 2011

This is about how modern education positively stops children enjoying reading. Although the examples are from the French system, it resonated with my schooldays. I've always been a voracious reader, yet I never really engaged with any set book at school (except The Hobbit, which I did finish well before we crawled to the end in the classroom). Both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are to this day unfinished, and both Lord of the Flies and A Room With a View are remembered with detestation. It must mainly be the effect of school: during my first summer vacation as an undergraduate, I decided that I could not dismiss Jane Austen without having read any, so I opened Pride and Prejudice. I devoured the complete works in about a fortnight (happy days). I also hated writing book reports, despite the fact that I have reviewed every book I've read, fiction and non-fiction, for the last 15 years. (Some reviews are extremely brief: but that's the point. I'm doing them for myself, not to complete some artificial exercise of a set length.)

Pennac starts off with a vignette of adults at a dinner party bemoaning how children don't read any more, unconscious of the irony that neither do they. He then shows how the entire system is set up to cause school readers maximum stress, by insisting that they analyse and critique sentence by sentence, rather than do what the authors of the books intended: read them for pleasure. This leads to his 10 "rights of the reader":

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 read anything.
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.

His other vignette, of reading aloud to a class to help re-engage them with reading for themselves, is inspiring.