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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

November 13, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

BETTER THAN LIFE by Daniel Pennac (Coach House: $16.95; 207 pp.) This is a lighthearted account of a couple of bookish parents who are horrified when their teen-age son turns into a book-hater, a non-reader. As a child, the author assures us, his son loved to be read to more than anything. "The absolute wonder of his new life endowed us with a kind of genius. For him, we became storytellers. . . . We didn't even know we had that skill. His pleasure inspired us. His happiness made us inventive." Suddenly the "reclusive adolescent" is "stuck on Page 48." Interminably. The culprits? Myriad: television, of course. The consumer society. Bad teachers, "threadbare libraries." All good culprits, says Pennac, asking himself at the same time, "What did we do to the ideal reader our child was in those days when we were both the tale and the teller?" We became, he concludes, our child's accountant, taking the pleasure out of reading by making it obligatory. By using television as a reward for good behavior. The solution? Pennac draws up a reader's bill of rights: The right to not read. The right to skip pages. The right to not finish a book. The right to reread. The right to read anything. The right to escapism. The right to read anywhere. The right to browse. The right to read out loud. And the right to not defend your tastes. "If we want our sons, our daughters, all young people to read," he writes, "we must grant them the same rights we grant ourselves."

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