Reading: A Re-Affirmation

January 22, 2009 | One Comment

Given the current fashion for oath do-overs, let’s remind ourselves of why we read and what are our rights and responsibilities as readers. The Guardian recently published a newly discovered version of Virginia Woolf’s essay, “The Love of Reading,” in which she explains in her trademark fluid fashion the necessary relationship between the artist’s pen and the reader’s eye. “Our first duty…is to try and understand what the writer is making from the first word with which he builds his first sentence to the last with which he ends his book. We must not impose our design upon him; we must not try to make him conform his will to ours. We must allow Defoe to be Defoe and Jane Austen to be Jane Austen….”

Daniel Pennac’s observation are less school-marm-ish but just as authoritative in hisĀ 

delightful gem, The Rights of the Reader, which I stumbled over by chance in my local children’s bookstore. Originally published in France in 1992 and available at last in the US, The Rights of the Reader is an invaluable guide to both parent and teacher on how to plant and nourish a love for books in young and growing children. Tetchily illustrated by the doodler Quentin Blake, Pennac’s advice is pragmatic and humerous, and culminates in his list of the ten rights of the reader (which fire warning shots across the quills of wanna-be wordsmith), my favorites being ‘the right to skip’ and the ‘right to mistake a book for real life.’