- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- Books & Novels
Reader's Bill of Rights Explored
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution officially and legally protects our rights to the freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition. In the spirit of the Bill of Rights, Daniel Pennac penned The Reader's Bill of Rights in his 1996 book Better Than Life. While not under any kind of official protection per se, it stands more as a list of guidelines to follow or at least to consider. The following is my take on them, discussed point-by-point.
1. The right to not read. This becomes trickier if you're talking about required reading and school assignments. It should not be used to avoid homework responsibilities, but only on the occasion that you have serious objections to the reading selection. If you are uncomfortable with a topic, you may ask to leave the room or opt out of the lesson. Otherwise, this right also can be taken to mean that you don't have to read something everyone else says is popular. Respectfully declining the latest fad also applies to the literary world and with similar results.
2. The right to skip pages. Like the previous right, it all comes down to discretion. Sometimes, if there is anything that objectionable, teachers may sometimes make photocopies of texts for their students and black out any obscene passages not relevant to the lesson. For the casual reader, what's wrong with skimming here and there during a particularly dull section?
3. The right to not finish. Sometimes the stories in books aren't what you think they are going to be. This is not always the fault of false advertising, though it could play a part. There should be no shame in stopping in the middle of a book because you are not as satisfied or impressed with the material, just like there's no shame in changing the channel on a disappointing TV show (no need to shoot the TV, although the right to bear arms is the second amendment to the Constitution). The best thing to do is return the book and find a different one written in a way that speaks to you, maybe even literally in the case of audiobooks.
4. The right to reread. Some people do not understand why people read the same book more than once. It really isn't any different than rewatching a movie or replaying a game you've already beaten. If the story was enjoyable the first time around, why shouldn't you go through it again?
5. The right to read anything. This right is one I believe in the most. Just as cashiers at retail stores shouldn't judge you for the clothes or food that you buy, librarians, teachers, and people working at book stores shouldn't judge you for what you read. You can challenge yourself with an intellectual book and then relieve the stress on your brain with the literary equivalent of junk or comfort food. Furthermore, when the Patriot Act wanted libraries to release the records of what their patrons were borrowing, many resisted because it went against what they stood for. No one should be allowed to judge you or violate your privacy.
6. The right to escapism. Reality is not always the ideal situation. Books are one of many methods of temporarily taking a break from that reality. Just like so-called "lower" forms of literature, even guilty pleasures that are poorly conceived but make you laugh anyway, take away the stress of reading challenging material, engaging in escapism is a well-deserved respite from the pressures of everyday life.
7.The right to read anywhere. This is self-explanatory, but within reason. Obviously you wouldn't read anywhere that's dangerous or while driving. You also must be able to pay attention to what is happening around you. Once I was walking down a hallway reading and someone came along and pushed me down on purpose. There is such a thing as too much reading, which I learned the hard way in middle school with my big stack of books partially obscuring my sight.
8. The right to browse. "Buy it or get out" may not be a commonly heard phrase anymore, as places like Barnes and Noble provide comfy chairs to read in, but this is a right that still needs to be upheld. People that browse are simply performing their own personal quality control before picking out what they want either that day or at a later time. That time may never come, and that once may be the only opportunity they have of reading it, but to each their own.
9. The right to read out loud. Reading out loud is quite common in classrooms and also when reading to children. However, reading out loud to yourself is as much of a right as speaking aloud to yourself rather than thinking the words in your head. Even alone, sometimes the words are so poignant they must be spoken aloud to feel the full effect.
10. The right not to defend your tastes. You shouldn't have to explain yourself to anyone, although oftentimes that is what ends up happening. Then you'll have to fight for your rights, whether it's against your parents or the authorities. Just as long as your literary preferences are not truly indicative of any evil intentions, you like what you like despite any criticism you may receive for it.
(see also: ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/teenreading/tipsenc/tipsencourage.cfm)
In the spirit of literary freedom and reasons why we still need libraries, it's also worth mentioning that the American Library Assiociation has its own Library Bill of Rights that reads as follows:
"The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries that make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use."