Susan Withee, Adult Services Manager
I sometimes think we take reading a tiny bit too seriously. Several years ago, in Daniel Pennac’s witty and entertaining book “Better Than Life,” I was delighted to discover his Reader’s Bill of Rights, a declaration of independence from worn-out constraints and rules that change reading from a pleasure to a chore. This list has stuck with me ever since. Here, in Pennac’s view, are your rights as a reader:
1. The right to not read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right to not defend your tastes.
If you’re reading for pleasure, definitely read what you love and bypass all the “shoulds.” Read whatever appeals to you at the moment without regrets or excuses. Reading can be many things — fun, inspiring, empowering, entertaining, enlightening – but it shouldn’t be a chore, and you certainly shouldn’t have to conform to someone else’s arbitrary standards. Read trash or treasure, or whatever else you want, with no apologies necessary – see #6 above.
If you’re reading a book that doesn’t capture your attention, or if reading it is simply not an enjoyable experience, by all means stop! Unless you’re going to be tested on it later, don’t read another page. There’s no rule anywhere that says you have to finish every book you start. Life’s too short. Close that book. See Right #3 above.
You should also feel free to use a perfectly acceptable reader’s technique that I like to call “skimming for the good parts.” This can include checking out the photos in a biography, reading the table of contents to get the gist of the book, enjoying the illustrations, looking for the most food-stained pages in a cookbook, going straight to the hot scenes in a novel, or skipping ahead and reading the last page to see how it all ends. We can do this! No one needs to know! See Rights #2 and #8 above.
I exercise my right #7 (the right to read anywhere) by having something to read with me at all times (or trying to remember to). A book in your pocket or bag is a lifesaver when waiting in the dentist’s office, being delayed in an airport, calming a fractious child, or eating a quiet meal alone in a restaurant. Reading anywhere can help the time pass and keep you self-contained and content, inoffensive to others, an island of calm and purpose. I love Right #7.
But in the end, in spite of Pennac’s Right #1 above (The Right to Not Read), I do hope reading is a vital part of your life. If you’re looking for good books at Manhattan Public Library, library staff are always delighted to help. Just ask!
So, what’s your favorite reader’s right?