Pennac, Daniel. Comme un roman. éditions Galimard, 1992.
English Translation: The Rights of the Reader. Candlewick, 2008.
I have a poster in my office listing the “Rights of the Reader”. The source for these “rights” is Daniel Pennac’s book, Comme un roman (1992). The “Rights of the Reader” are well known in the library world but I hadn’t read the original text so this summer I ventured into French literature.
Pennac is a well-known French humourist who writes for children and adults. Several of his books have been adapted to film and theatre. Early in his career, he taught boys in a French Lycée (high school) where he formed strong ideas on the nature of reading. These ideas are expressed in Comme un roman, his cri de coeur for readers. Pennac begins his book with an appeal: “Please (I beg of you) do not use this book as an instrument of pedagogical torture” (I love this quote – I have to figure out a way to use it in a lecture…). Questioning why young children love reading so much and why adolescent boys seem to hate it, Pennac asks, where did we go wrong? The book was written as a reaction against the reading dogma prevalent in French schools of the time – forced reading, reading for grades or for a “correct” interpretation, reading for bits of information and fill-in-the-blank tests (we may see more similarities here than we’d like to admit). Forgotten in all the pedagogy was simple pleasure in reading. The chief pleasure of reading, according to Pennac, is sharing and talking about books with others – something parents cease doing once their child’s formal schooling has begun. Although Pennac’s book doesn’t deal with literacy issues that might have an impact on how adults share books with young people - in Pannac’s world, all adults are well-read; they’ve simply forgotten what its like to read Stendahl, Flaubert and Tolstoy for the first time - it still delivers the strong message that reading should be a guilt-free pleasure. Pannac has words for librarians. “Dear librarians, guardians of the temple”, he writes, “It is fortunate that all the titles of the world have found their place in your perfect organization …but it would also be good if you talked about your favourite books to visitors who are lost in the forest of reading possibilities…” Notwithstanding my poor translation, this is a poetic call to arms for librarians and a message our students need to hear.
The book ends with a list of the famous ten inalienable “Rights of the Reader”:
• The right not to read
• The right to skip pages
• The right to not finish a book
• The right to re-read
• The right to read anything
• The right to escapism
• The right to read anywhere
• The right to browse
• The right to read out loud
• The right not to defend your tastes