Of course, among the life changes that occurred throughout the first half of this year, the last couple of months have had me within the throes of an existential reading crisis in which I struggled not only to finish a book, but to choose my next book. Surrounded by books, talking about books, and being an active member of book culture, I learned very quickly that we put too much pressure on ourselves as readers. This was a tough pill to swallow since reading, for me and many others, is associated with relaxation and pleasure. But even a reader's lifestyle comes with challenges.
However, all is well - I have discovered our first title to lead us back into the furious reader's discussion: Daniel Pennac's The Rights of the Reader, translated by Sarah Ardizzone and illustrated by the infamous Quentin Blake. An excellent link to a poster version of the book can be found here.
Originally published in 1992, The Rights of the Reader focuses on Daniel Pennac's experience with his personal reading and teaching his reading philosophy to students. While I did not agree with all of his thoughts, and that is to be expected when reading about the act of reading, I did find it to be the most helpful of the nonfiction pieces about this topic. Usually these types of books are written in the form of memoir which can read as a bit self-serving (if anyone finds a reading memoir that isn't self-serving in their travels, please, please pass it along!). A quick search on the Internet revealed that many readers are split between supporting Pennac's message and outright rejecting it. The book is divided into four parts and it scaffolds our reading journeys from childhood to adulthood: the joy of being read to, the frustration of being forced to read classics in school, and the gift we finally give ourselves when we rediscover the love of reading.
I really like the idea that Pennac gives readers back their "rights." Often, reading is viewed as a chore or as a race we can never win, so we shouldn't try (again, referring back to the social shame that we put upon ourselves because we haven't finished an extensive novel like War and Peace). Pennac argues that understanding our rights will allow us to be kinder to ourselves whenever we pick up a book. Naturally, this speaks to me as an editor at Read Furiously because this is a huge part of what we do: to encourage reading in all forms without the added societal pressure we bring to the table. However, I did struggle with some of the "rights" that Pennac expresses in his text. While I agree that we need to enjoy reading, sometimes challenging ourselves by not skipping a passage or by reading something outside of our comfort zone (i.e. an intimidating classic or a genre one isn't used to reading). As furious readers, we know that reading is a very delicate relationship between the text and the reader. Right now, I am trying to find a personal balance between challenge and comfort (more on this when I actually figure something out!).
What we should take away from Pennac's text is a good reader encourages the love of reading. Pennac tells stories of dedicated teachers who read aloud to their classes and readers who share their favorite titles and stories with their loved ones. What's more, it has inspired other readers to share their own rules for reading. Since working in a bookstore, especially in the Children's Section, finding the right book, for anyone, is a difficult task. Add to all of the confusion and white noise that we hear growing up (if a book is too hard, you shouldn't read it, or magazines and comic books aren't considered "high-level" reading, which I find vexing) and we have created a generation of confused readers. The Rights of the Reader helps alleviate some of that pressure we place upon ourselves. This is a slim read and one I highly recommend for all furious readers. It is a call back to our roots, when reading was a pleasure activity before it became one laden with expectation.
The moral of the story is this: Read however you like. Just remember to read.
In closing, I leave you all with this:
It's good to be back. : )