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Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman (Better than Life; Reads Like a Novel)

It’s not a novel but as it is about novels (as the French and UK titles show), it is worth looking it and any book that gets two translations must have some value. This book is about reading – the joy of reading and why we (or, more particularly) children do not read. This is not your French highly intellectual Reader-Response Theory, Deconstructionism or any other theory du jour but rather a book on the sheer joy of reading. Pennac castigates (mildly) schools and parents for putting children off reading and shows why. He then goes on to show that a teacher reading aloud in French class (and reading a German novel (Suskind‘s Parfüm) can make children interested in reading, rather than the normal approach to literature used in (French) schools. One interesting aside is the students’ interest in any literature but French literature and Pennac imagines a situation where the French student is eagerly reading Catcher in the Rye to avoid reading Madame Bovary, while a Texan is eagerly reading Madame Bovary to avoid reading Catcher in the Rye. A French student tellingly points out that that is unlikely because Texans don’t read as he has never seen anyone in Dallas with a book. Pennac finishes with the readers’ rights, which include the right to not finish a book, to flip through the pages and to read on the toilet. He starts by pointing out that the word read, like the words love and dream, does not have an imperative so I won’t tell you to read this book.

Publishing history

First published 1992 by Gallimard
First published in English 1994 by Coach House Press, Toronto (Better than Life), Quartet Books, London (Reads Like a Novel)