The Right to Read Anything–or not at all.

The Right to Read Anything–or not at all.

Image Description:  
The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac, illustrations by Quentin Blake 
1. The right to not read. [picture of three people reading and one person tinkering with a gadget.] 
2. The right to skip. [picture of a person flipping excitedly through their book.] 
3. The right to not finish a book.  [picture of two people looking confused at another person who is saying, “I am keeping some for tomorrow”.] 
4. The right to read it again. [picture of three people begging another person to tell a story over again.] 
5. The right to read anything. [picture of three people reading magazines.] 
6. The right to mistake a book for real life. [picture of two people reading different books. One is joyous, the other is crying. They both have the same thought bubble that says, “This is SO me!”] 
7. The right to read anywhere. [picture of two people riding a bike, one peddling, the other sitting on the handlebars. The person on the handlebars is reading a book and holding it up for the person peddling to also read over their shoulder.] 
8. The right to dip in. [picture of someone showing another person an open book saying, “Try this page—it’s fantastic!”] 
9. The right to read out loud. [picture of one person listening to an audiobook and someone reading a book out loud to a teddy bear.] 
10. The right to be quiet. [picture of someone embracing a closed book to their chest, a pleased smile on their face.] 
At the bottom, a picture of a child speaking to a taken aback adult: “10 rights—1 warning. Don’t make fun of people who don’t read—or they never will”.  

I haven’t read a book in 5 years. That is, until the week leading up to Christmas.  The book I read was The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (I highly recommend it!). It was delightful and I devoured it in a couple of days. I would have read it in a day but I had to force myself to slow down. To this day I am still reeling from the whiplash of the whole event… 

See, I used to eat books for breakfast (metaphorically). Starting in third grade and all through grade school I was an avid reader. Reading very much defined me.  

Teachers and peers would tease me about always having a different book each day at school.  

“Did you even finish the last one?” they would scoff. 

“Oh yes!” I would respond enthusiastically.  

They would raise an eyebrow, or shake their heads, or roll their eyes in disbelief and most likely walk away as I eyed the book in my hands longingly wishing I could continue reading, rather than socializing.  

My relationship with books started out rocky. Kindergarten through 2nd grade, math was actually my best subject (which is a shocker if you know me now) and I really struggled with reading. But in second grade my school pulled me out of math class once a week to catch me up with reading and by 3rd grade I discovered The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (a children’s mystery series with four orphaned children living out of a boxcar, solving mysteries). Once I found a book I loved, I began to love all books. I immediately began reading books cover to cover on a daily basis.  

“Why don’t you read a book that is more challenging to you?” an adult would ask.  

But they didn’t get it. Rather than reading a book as a competition for my brain, I was reading for enjoyment. And in doing so, I naturally continued to read more difficult books without feeling the weight of expectation and work. As I got older, I struggled to hold on to the enjoyment of reading. Not only was I required to read more books I did not enjoy for school, but when I wasn’t doing homework, at band practice, at theatre practice, or doing the small number of household chores I was required to do, I was socializing with my friends either in person or virtually. The summer before my senior year of high school was the first summer I think I read five or fewer books. Actually, it is possible I did not read a single book that summer. And once I was in college, I never even thought about picking up a book for pleasure. Even when I had the rare free time. After college, I read a few books, but I just couldn’t seem to get a rhythm, so—filled with disappointment—I did not stick with it.  

All of this just feels so profound to me now. How could something be my identity for 8 formative years of my life and then suddenly poof! Gone? Not even missed?  Until now.

After I read The House in the Cerulean Sea, it was like waking up from a deep sleep. The magic of a different universe, different laws, different ways of being was back in my life.  

And then I mourned.  

I mourned all of the years I never read a book. All of the worlds I missed. All of the magic I never unleashed.  

But I also have not rushed to the library and picked out a new book.  

Now, I am afraid that I will pick up the next book and not enjoy it. I am afraid of the disappointment I had the year after college when I tried to read a couple of books.  

You know how we often talk about when we were children, we were so adventurous? We would be a lot more willing to try new things, think new thoughts, explore new places, or meet new people? But then as we get older, we get stuck in a rhythm of sameness and only want to try or do or think what we are most comfortable with? I’ve realized I have gotten that way with books. As a kid I was not adventurous in the “climb trees, explore the local town, bike trails, break rules” kind of way. Most of my adventures were in my books. And now I am only willing to have those adventures if I know I am going to enjoy them.  

I am not sure what the next course of action is. I am still self-reflecting. The intuitive side of me says to jump both feet in and force myself to be challenged from the beginning with books I may not normally enjoy. The practical side of me, inspired by the image at the beginning of this post, says to just read for enjoyment. Let myself naturally grow without making it feel like more work.  

And the other voice in my head, the one that sounds strangely like Paige Getty’s voice, says, “It’s okay to do both. And… it’s okay to stop and take a break for however long. Do what you need.”  

I do know that I am going to begin reading again. So, feel free to comment book recommendations below!  

~Hannah 

9 Comments

  1. Kathy Parker

    Hi Hannah — I am happy you have decided to take up reading for enjoyment again. Louise Penney has written a large number of books that many or my women friends enjoy. Perhaps you would too! (I have not read her because I am still reading history.) I suggest giving Louise a try!
    Good luck with your return to reading! Kathy

  2. Lowell Sunderland

    Wonderful reflection, Hannah. As a word-guy for all my years, career included, I would add one thought: reading journalistic work on a daily basis is just as important to 21st century life as paying attention to books. In the computer age, new and current info about everything moves around the world with such speed and currency, it’s imperative to add quick-hit, journalistic knowledge to the broader perspective in books. That applies now not only to politics, crime, governance at all levels, climate change, etc.; it’s also medical matters, mental health, food, entertainment, personal finance, personal relationships, even humor, and lots more.
    Caution: “print” as is typically thought of, is dying unless you can read on-line, which is where the future clearly is. And Kindle or other such devices are even where books are heading … fast.

    • Linwood Kennedy

      I remember the “reading Hannah.” And those were big books, too. I also remember you reading with a flashlight under the covers after the
      lights were out and you were supposed to be asleep.
      Love you! Granddaddy

  3. Kevin Mercer

    I too used to read constantly. I’d have a book with me always. At kid’s Basketball practices, dive meets, in between appointments, meals, and of course at night. Then came pod casts. I found that I struggle to share space/time with these two mediums. My bedside table is stacked with ‘I’ll get to’ books. I decided not to worry too much- I’ll eventually get to them. I just wonder- What the heck happened?

  4. Sue McCarty

    I have to chime in to recommend a way of reading books, rather than a specific book. I listen to audio books. That way I listen to books as I walk outside, or drive on long drives. I have read many books this way that I would never have been able to get into by reading them on the printed page (Moby Dick, for example).
    I have gotten picky about who reads the books–a bad reader can kill any book.
    Probably the most intense audio book I have listened to was Toni Morrison’s Beloved, read by the author. It was an earth-shaking experience, for me.

  5. Betty Myers

    Reading books was a painful endeavor for me. I had amblyopia (crossed eyes), which was theoretically corrected by surgery at age 5. However, the lazy eye could not keep up with hours of reading. As a kid, my grades suffered, and the endless reading assignments were painful. Further, I was a slow reader (as in forming every word, needing to go back and read sentences over). Teachers, in those days, weren’t taught to understand learning differences, and so I was often punished for not completing books. That didn’t squash my interest in reading, totally. I migrated to newspapers, magazines and media which was printed in narrow columns. I often read books published in those formats. I also found that I liked practical books. I would devour information about art, how-to’s and self help. A few reading assignments of novels stuck with me for the way writers wrote word pictures. Thanks so much for sharing your reflection. it woke my own reflections on reading (or not). For a good book about art, try “Broad Strokes–15 Women who Made Art and Made History (In That Order)” by Bridget Quinn.

  6. Steve

    I read (and write) for a living (law professor, now mostly retired). I had a novel drought for decades while building a career and raising a family. Then I started to get back into novels after the kids had gone to college and my career was stable. And in the past decade I’ve read a lot. Mostly sci fi or fantasy when doing fiction (finishing up the Expanse series now (9 books . . . ). I’m particularly partial to Toni Morrison, Murikami, and Jemisen and highly recommend them. Enjoy your trips . . .

  7. Carol Zika

    I read for pleasure and escape, and occasionally, for learning. I’ve gained a great deal of knowledge from reading historical fiction. But if the reading seems like work, I go on to the next thing. There are too many things to read and too little time. Since you loved the Cerulean Sea (as did I), consider the Harry Potter series. Also, a friend shared with me that after all of the reading she had to do in law school, she only read YA books. I started with Ridley Pearson and loved his books. I also love clever, beautifully illustrated children’s books! I appreciated your reflection. Best wishes for your reading journey.

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