By December 8, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

Better Than Life

better-lifeWhat makes us a reader? How do we raise a reader? How do we destroy a love of reading? If it is lost, how is it regained?

I recently read Daniel Pennac’s Better Than Life. I bought it years ago and then was reminded again by David Wright about it and picked it up. It’s a quick read.

It is a quick read about reading and would be a perfect conversation starter. Sometimes it can be nice to take time out from a year’s busy schedule of reading weighty fiction and nonfiction to talk about reading itself–its pleasures, its valleys and peaks in our lives. Better Than Life is an unpretentious look at reading and the power of story in our lives.

Here is one passage that I loved, although I must admit I am considering buying another copy just to underline in:

Dear librarians, guardians of the temple, I’m glad that all the titles in the world have found their pigeon-holes in the perfect organization of your collective memory (for how would I find my way without you, I who have Jell-O for a memory?). It is wondrous indeed that you know where to find all the themes you’ve carefully arranged on the shelves around you. But it would be good, for once, to hear you tell the story of your favorite novels to the visitors who’ve lost their way in the forest of potential reading. Just as it would be good if you regale them with the memories of your favorite books. Be tellers of tales, be magicians, and the books will jump off your shelves into the readers’ waiting hands.

Plus, the real bonus of this book is Pennac’s “The Reader’s Bill of Rights”:

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

rights-of-the-readerBecause Better Than Life was originally written in French, there are different translations of it. It is now available in the U.S. with a new translation and title, The Rights of the Reader, with plucky illustrations by Quentin Blake. The Reader’s Bill of Rights changes a bit in this version, but it is a lovely volume that would make not just a good discussion book, but also a wonderful gift.

But isn’t the gift of reading the greatest gift of all? As Pennac reminds us, it’s all about sharing stories; he wants us all to make sure we don’t lose sight of that. Pennac has included a disclaimer in the new translation: “Parents, teachers, librarians, please on no account use these pages as an instrument of torture.”

Share stories generously this season and into the new year. That’s certainly one of my new year’s resolutions.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

1 Comment on "Better Than Life"

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  1. ladyhawk@well.com' GraceAnne says:

    I require my MLIS graduate students to read Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader, and it always gives them a thrill.

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