The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader.

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: The 10 inalienable rights of the reader.

A thoughtful reader pointed out a wonderful list written by French author Daniel Pennac, in The Rights of the Reader.

As someone who loves to read–practically to the exclusion of everything else–I love this list.

The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader
1. The right not to read
2. The right to skip
3. The right not to finish a book
4. The right to re-read
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to “Bovary-ism,” a textually transmitted disease (the right to mistake a book for real life)
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to dip in
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to be silent

If you’d like to see the list as illustrated by Quentin Blake, look  here.

I recently posted about my new determination “not to finish a book,” and I fully support #3. I love to re-read, so I was happy to see #4. My younger daughter is a big supporter of #9. My husband practices #8.

What do you think  of the list? Anything you’d add–or with which you disagree?

  • Lucky Barb

    I like #5 – The right to read anything. I get a bit impatient with people who insist either that I should read something (of their choosing), or that I should not read something that I have chosen.

  • Christin

    Huge fan of #7! A few years ago, I decided to perfect the art of reading while walking. People on the street may find it annoying, but it keeps me happy. 🙂

  • This is a great list. Every week I bring home an assortment of books (#5) from the library and mull each one of them over (#8). Cookbooks, how-to books, biographies, poetry, history, philosophy, travel, or whatever strikes me. Sometimes I read just a bit of one or two of them (#2 & #3), sometimes three, and there’s usually one that I can’t put down. If I have an arm load of disappointment, then I just go back for another arm load and try, try again.

  • Deb

    It’s No.5, really: but the right to not have to explain why one is reading something. “That’s a trashy romance/kids’ book/guy’s book – why are you reading it?”

    • Kristi

      I hate when people who aren’t close friends ask me what I’m reading. It’s usually unlikely that they will have a clue if I tell them the title since the percentage of “best-sellers” I read (e.g. books that people recognize) is low compared to how many books I read. So I usually just feel awkward and mumble something and try to end the conversation quickly so I can get back to my book.

      • Ginger

        It bugs me when people ask me what I’m reading and I know they are not much of a reader and have no intention or any genuine interest in what I’m reading. It just seems nosy to me. Plus, it’s an interruption!

  • Number 6 is my favorite. If I am really into a book or a particular author, I often find myself thinking in that author’s writing style. It’s really fun, actually. 🙂

  • mLt

    A sort of sub-rule to #9 should require loved ones — friends — acquaintances — heck, strangers on the bus — to listen when you come across a passage too good not to read out loud TO somebody.

    • gretchenrubin


      • wordlover365

        I love that impulse to read something aloud out of joy in the wonder of it. But I’m afraid I would overstay the welcome and find a phrase or paragraph every 30 minutes!

  • I love this, especially 6. It took me ages not to feel guilty about doing 3!

  • Kate

    The right to not be interrupted while reading. Unless it’s by an attractive stranger wanting to talk about what you’re reading!

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh yes. I really have a hard time not losing my temper when my reading is interrupted.

  • Shari

    When I read The Help, it begged to be read out loud.

  • Raghavan Parthasarathy

    Perhaps there should be a right to collect books so one can read, lend, display, translate ….?

    • I like this idea. My sister displays all her books in great fashion, but when I want to pick up one to read, I about knock everything over. The lending idea is also genius, except when your favorite books come back stained or have bent page corners. So I also suggest the inalienable right to having a sense of pride in your books. 😀

  • Silvina Zitto

    love the complete list 🙂 and apply to all 😀

  • Bernadette

    It’s a good list and I love Quentin Blake. Recently I, too, have discovered #3 and I definitely agree with #4–some books are good enough to make me want to eat the pages to retain what they hold or taught me, great quotes (I love collecting good quotes). I also love to rip up a note pad piece of paper adn stick little bits wherever I find things that stick with me.
    My daughter has #6 for certain–she just turned 8 and last June we started Harry Potter, stopped shortly after school started then barreled through the last 2 in about a month’s time. It was great time sharing a story I love and she became completely enthralled with Harry and his worl. Definitely worth reading 4,100 pages out loud to her. She insists Hogwart’s must be real. The joy of a good book!

    • peninith1

      I read Harry Potter as an adult, and I want to tell you I am deeply hurt that I did not get to go to Hogwarts. I’d have given Hermione a run for her money, I swear!

  • Peninith1

    I love #6 especially. I remember as a 4th grader being called away from “Little Women” to the dinner table. “I’ll be RIGHT back!” I said to the book, before obeying the summons.

  • #7 is my favorite. I also think it should include reference to time. For example, “The right to stay up until 4am finishing a book without weird or rude comments the next day from family or friends.” Some books are just too good to apply self-control in time management. 😀

    • Beth

      Yes! Reading is the only thing I don’t feel guilty about staying up late for!

  • LOVE this list! It goes well with the discussions going around lately on the internet about what readers are or are not “obligated” to do for authors (re: Amazon, Goodreads reviews, etc.)

  • Miriam Moore

    Quentin Blake is right next to Roald Dahl and Ludwig Bemelmans as illustrators with funny lines.

  • Miriam Moore

    I also reserve the right, when reading aloud to girls to change at least half the he’s to she’s, and to say often, “it could have been she, it just happens here to be he.”

    • Gunilla

      Absolutely! And when reading aloud to boys, too.

  • Love this list. As one who structures my day around the books I read …something inspirational in the morning; books I’m reading to enhance my knowledge, career, etc., during the day; and the current book I’m reading exclusively for pleasure before I go to sleep; I agree with several of your other readers–

    “The right to read more than one book at a time.”

  • Learned Lady

    I LOVE #6. A snarky academic once chided me for thinking of characters as “real people.” I was asking her if she thought a particular character was a figure of suffering, and she said “I think of characters as fictional constructs.” She can keep her fictional constructs; I prefer to live in a world where Elizabeth Bennet and Anna Karenina are real!

    • Learned Lady

      The lady in Blake’s cartoons who’s crying and saying “It’s just SO me” is just so ME!

  • jenny_o

    The right to read the ending of a book first.

    The right not to lend a precious book out.

    And like others have said, the right to read as many books at once as you like!

    I especially appreciate #1 – the right not to read. I rarely like best sellers, and even more rarely classics. That seems to brand one as a heathen, but I can’t help what I like or don’t like. Be Me! A good rule I learned from a wise lady 🙂

  • lyzki

    I like most about 10 right, this is the most I corresponding…

  • serwis klimatyzacji

    interesting question, I will use it in your paper

  • Daniele Nicola

    I would say #11 – the right to read more than a book at the time 🙂

    • calbaby1817

      Yes! That one should be included too! 🙂

  • szkoła

    “I wonder – he said – and the stars shine so that everyone can one day find his own.”
    – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry…

  • barry

    The right to cry and laugh out loud no matter where you are or whom you are with.

  • barry

    The right to buy and keep my own books. The right not to use Tablets, nooks or any other e-book. I buy my books and I keep all my books. I don’t give them away when I am done. I like the feel of the book in my hands and I like turning the pages. I like being able to re-read my favorites, and I’ve started to collect my best loved books of my childhood. My little library I’m building is my version of ” My Secret Garden”. And also…. The right to share my book with any one who will listen. : )

  • Wordlover365

    Reading Rights: the right to become a different reader and go back to a worthwhile book with new eyes.

    The right of a reader to read subjectively if she or he wishes.
    Also, the right of a writer to intend and make clear as specific a theme and purpose as he wants to convey, and to support the truth of it in the work as fully as words can express it.
    The right to believe that a book’s text has an objective truth to it and factuality to support it; in other words, that it means what it says and says what the author meant, regardless of subjective readings.

    the right of a reader to find his or her own most valuable parts to a book and to follow the themes of them into works or journals or thoughts of his or her own.

    the right to awareness of mood when reading, and to reserve judgment on a book if a mood is distracted or distressed.

  • Gunilla

    Great list. I’d add “the right to mark up the text”, with notes, highlighter, etc. And I fully agree with the right to read several books in parallel.

  • annie

    what does #8 mean, Gretchen?

  • Joanne

    These are all great, but I especially love “6. The right to “Bovary-ism,” a textually transmitted disease (the right to mistake a book for real life)”. I contracted that ailment (though I would consider it more enhancement than illness) from several books!

  • Claudia McKeon

    I’m not in love with number 9 unless there’s no one else around. Why would I want to annoy people with what I’m reading?

  • Kay Fudala

    The right to create a bucket list solely comprised of libraries and museums to visit.

    I have covered my list here:

  • Barbara

    I love to re-read, so have many favorites I visit. I also have the right to have “real” books, as well as the right to read e-books and not get blasted for doing so.

  • Bonnie Mulligan

    11. The right to mark a book reminded me of Helen Banff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. She said “I shall sprinkle pale pencil marks through it pointing out the best passages to some book lover yet unborn.”

    • Leah Claire

      I haven’t read 84 Charing Cross yet, but I adore the movie, and do so eagerly anticipate adoring the book, as well.

  • David

    Certainly the right to underline the best parts, and even make notes in the margins. Also the right to turn down page corners (assuming the book is ones own).

  • Persephone

    The right to have more than one book underway at the same time. The right to break the book’s spine to get it to lie flat — important corollary to #7, because sometimes I’m reading while brushing my teeth or getting dressed and don’t have a free hand to keep the book open.

  • M

    The right not to remember the author’s name but be completely taken by the story and try to tell everyone to find and read it through description of its fantabulous-ness alone.