The right to read a book in your own way
A French writer named Daniel Pennac created, in 1992, the “The Rights of the Reader,” which is about a reader’s right to read anytime or anywhere as long as it is a joyful experience.
Here is my spin on these inalienable rights:
The Right to not read. This is my favorite right because it gives me the option to not do something I really don’t feel like doing. I mean, what if I want to walk the dog, sail my boat, dig a ditch (not likely, but I want the option), burn a steak, or watch a brace of Hallmark Christmas episodes? Sometimes I just don’t want to read. Period. I know many very bright and industrious folks who don’t read at all. They learn things in different ways. We all know people like this.
The Right to skip pages. I have enough guilt for a lifetime from being raised an Irish Catholic, so I don’t need to feel guilty for hastily skipping through a book — fiction, non-fiction, newspaper or periodical — that doesn’t give me any traction and sets my mind adrift in an ocean of indifference. I skip; therefore I am.
The Right to not finish. Some books are simply not going to let us go the distance. For example, I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson’s book about Steve Jobs for a couple of years and it’s a grind. Believe me, it’s a great book about a very sharp guy; however, it’s a brutal book for me to slog through — digging a ditch is a better option. My gut tells me that this one will stay at the halfway mark ad infinitum.
The Right to reread. “Old Man and the Sea,” Hemingway; “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe; “Forever,” Pete Hamill; “The Right Stuff,” Tom Wolfe; “ C h r o n i c l e s Volume 1,” Bob Dylan; “ L o n e s o m e Dove,” Larry McMurtry ; “Sick Puppy,” Carl Hiaasen and several others. ‘Nuff said about this very important Right.
The Right to read anything. It doesn’t matter what your deal is. There are books for your interests. Hit a library, let the pages rip, and see what grabs you. The beauty of reading is that we never know what will grab us at any given moment. I believe that good books find us, and that we shouldn’t rush to judgement and ditch out on a book on the quick. My rule is that if the hook isn’t set in the first five pages, then this boy will defer to shelving said book and moving on down the stacks.
The Right to escapism. I just wrote a novella called “Tangled in the Web,” and it is purely escapist fare. I figured the world narrative today is so amorphous, so I wrote a simple book about a guy looking to find love online. (What could possibly go wrong?) It’s a simple story arc of a wayward sailor trying to find his way home. I would not call it heavy lifting. It’s a fastpaced escape from the head-spinning news cycles. Easy and fun stuff when we don’t want to read “War and Peace.”
The Right to read anywhere. Hey, this is a free country and we can read whatever and wherever we want: trains, planes, automobiles (audio books only), in tree forts, on beaches and ferryboats, couches, and the dentist’s chair waiting for the Novocain to kick in. A few summers ago I was reading a Carl Hiaasen book called “Razor Girl” while sailing through a sailboat race. While absorbed in the book and steering with my foot, I heard a horn blowing and some guys yelling. I looked up and pulled a geezer move and pointed at my ears and shrugging while sailing out of the way.
The Right to browse. This is how books are sold; people browse and then they buy.
The Right to read out loud. This is a good thing to do in the privacy of your own chambers, and maybe not such a good idea in Starbucks. I loved reading out loud to my kids when they were young. I’d deviate from the script and make up wild stories. They didn’t care; they liked the entertainment the old man provided. I know of a big shot author who said, “I’d be out in the woods in back of my house as a kid and I’d read Shakespeare out loud.” I know another guy whose dad made him read The Boston Globe aloud cover to cover, and that’s how the guy learned to read. Reading quietly or raging to the heavens, I say go, cat, go!
The Right not to defend your taste. This is a very important right. If we are reading and expanding our knowledge base it should be applauded and not judged. Remember this, reading leads to questions, which reads to more reading, and that is how we learn.
I never read an entire book until I was fourteen. It was “Treasure Island,” and Robert Louis Stevenson grabbed me with the pirates, swords and buried treasure — I was all in right from the rip. I just needed the right book.
I think we all do.