This ode to the joys of reading is itself no joy to read. Pennac, a novelist and secondary school teacher in France (where this book was a bestseller), takes an idea that, if presented succinctly, could make a fairly interesting essay: Parents and schools, each in their own way, help turn reading into a dreary activity; however, if students were encouraged to engage in reading as an enjoyable process rather than as something else to be tested on, some might recognize and regain the sheer pleasure that, as young children, they once took in stories. Unfortunately, the author, even as he recognizes the simplicity of this idea, labors mightily to make it sound profound, and all too often the resulting text is simply fatuous, as in these sentence fragments rendered as four separate paragraphs: ``Read. Out loud. For the sheer pleasure of it. His [your child's] favorite stories.'' At times Pennac's comments sound like they have escaped from an intensely saccharine self-help book: ``What is love, if not the gift of our preference to those we prefer? Those acts of sharing fill the secret fortress of our freedom.'' Rounding out the volume is a discussion of ten rights Pennac claims for readers, including the rights not to read at all, not to finish what one does read, to read for escapism, and to reread particular favorites. Yet on closer inspection, some of these rights are less than absolute. For example, in discussing the right to read anything, ``anything'' is equated with novels, and Pennac is endorsing the right to read ``bad'' novels not for themselves but as part of the process of moving toward becoming readers of ``good'' novels. For Pennac the happy ending may be for young people to become readers like him. If reading is indeed ``better than life,'' you can't prove it by this book.
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