Whether you are a reader or a writer, we are all affected by what Roland Barthes so cleverly called a passion for reading. I would like to share an idea from En lisant, en écrivant, a wonderful book by French writer Julien Gracq. He believed that reading and writing are united in a continuous process, with no beginning and no precedence, a little like the “chicken and egg” relationship: we write because we have read and we read because others have written before us.

Every reader therefore has the potential to be a writer, a creator in his or her own right; and every writer is actually a reader. This is what Réjean Ducharme evokes in L’Avalée des avalés, when he writes: “Each page of a book is a city. Each line is a street. Each word is a dwelling. My eyes run along a street, opening each door and entering each dwelling in turn.” There is something poetic about the fundamental and even basic contemporary humanity acts of reading and writing, which are joined in a symbiosis of give and take . . . This symbiosis includes the relationship the writer has with language, as well as the relationship the reader and the writer have with the history of literature.

The passion for reading is not innate; we learn it from infancy. School and family play a crucial role in the development of our reading skills and our interest in books. It is difficult for teachers to show their students that reading is not just a boring obligation, that it is a stimulating place for discussions; it is also difficult for parents to find the time to read and visit the local library—if there is one—and to recognize the variety of reading choices for children, to awaken and help develop their passion for reading and allow them, as Tzvetan Todorov wrote, to piece together their first coherent image of the world, which subsequent, more complex readings will help nuance.

In conclusion, I want you to consider the following questions: How do we acquire a passion for reading? How do we solicit it, cajole it, and train it in this commercial world that has made writers vendors and books merchandise? What role do schools, society and the media play? I would like all those who have joined us here in the auditorium to consider what role reading plays in their daily lives. What motivates your passion for reading.

A society that focuses on entertainment, novelty and speed—values that seem to run counter to the practices of reading and writing. As Marshall McLuhan said: “It’s easy to produce writers, but a public is much harder to come by.”

It is possible to inspire and develop a passion for reading. Even if children come to reading through drawings, newspapers or the simple texts we come across every day, the important thing is to find that personal path that will lead them to the magic of words. I believe that the opposite is true; I think that reading is just as lively and polyphonic as writing. The book is what links them, and this work of art is itself a pact between the writer and the reader, for better or for worse. Jean Paul Sartre set out the clear and lapidary terms for this pact in relation to the novel when he said that a novel is the undertaking of a single person, but reading is taking part in the risks of that undertaking.

Leave a Reply