Sunday, July 15, 2007

Better Than Life

Pennac, Daniel. 1994. Better Than Life. Translated from the French by David Homel.

Better Than Life is the book that contains the 'Readers' Bill of Rights.' Ten little rules that could potentially change the way a parent parents or how a teacher teaches. (What does a librarian do I wonder? Would it be libraries?) I would encourage everyone to read my "behind-the-scenes" reflections of Better Than Life. Among other things I discuss the why's and how's of how I became a reader...and who I dearly thank for this obsession.

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

Brilliant little rights, aren't they? The book generally tells adults (be they parents, teachers, librarians, or educators) that their insistence that a child or teen must read or must read that specific book drains any and all joy away from the process of reading. Reading is something that is done for pleasure. Make it a requirement. Make it forced. And watch the torture begin. If you want your child/teen to actually be a lifelong reader, you've got to give him/her the rights that real readers have naturally collected. Pennac's argument is essentially that if you look at adults who are readers--adults who love reading and make time for it--they tend to live by these rules. These unspoken rules.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

To reread is not necessarily to repeat. To reread is to provide fresh proof of enduring love. (66)

The cult of reading is a product of the oral tradition. You'll have to become its high priest if you want to propagate it. (88)

If you have to ask yourself where you'll find the time [to read], it means the desire isn't there. Because, if you look at it more carefully, no one has the time to read. Children don't, teenagers don't, adults don't. Life is a perpetual plot to keep us from reading. (145)

Time spent reading is always time stolen. (146)

I've never had the time to read. But no one has ever kept me from finishing a novel I loved. Reading does not belong to the societal organization of time. Like love, it is a way of being. The issue is not whether or not I have the time to read...but whether I will allow myself the joy of being a reader. (146-147)

If we want our sons, our daughters, all young people to read, we must grant them the same rights we grant ourselves. (171)

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is how he compares the act of learning to read to that of alchemy--turning lead to gold.

Lead into gold. Nothing less. He had just turned lead into gold...You never get over that transformation. You don't return from a voyage like that unchanged. No matter how inhibited, the pleasure of reading presides over every act of reading. By its nature, its alchemical sensuality, the pleasure of reading has no fear of visual media, not even the daily avalanche of pictures on the TV screen. (47-48)


Karlene said...

This sounds great! I want to read it soon. I 100% agree with those rights you listed. It applies to learning as well--those are a lot of the reasons I'm a proponent of home schooling.

Tristi Pinkston said...

This is fabulous -- thanks for sharing!

Steve Emery said...

I loved the list of rights - and the fact that all of them are commonly practiced in our house/homeschool helps me understand why reading is a passion for all 5 of us.

I loved the sentence excerpts you pulled out. Reading time IS stolen (and sweeter, like stolen apples, for that reason) - and the comparison to time taken for love is right on.