Words to Live By – September 2023, no.1

Words to Live By - September 2023, no.1

Beginning this month, we’ll invite a member of faculty to tell us about one book that played an outsized role in making them who they are today. This month, Associate Professor of Humanities Mélanie Frappier tells us about her Words to Live By. 

What book have you chosen? 

All the books from Daniel Pennac’s “saga Malaussène”, but especially the first book, Au bonheur des ogres (1985, translated as The Scapegoat in 1998).

When did you first read this book? 

I was probably in my first year of Cégep.

Was it a book that you read quickly or did you take your time reading it? 

Despite its deep and emotionally-charged content, this is a page-turner.

What was it about the book that first stood out to you?   

Its surrealistic strangeness—which is built in the characters’ names—and then, of course, the characters themselves who, despite their flaws know that when facing difficult circumstances  (including the anguish of a banal routine) know that what gives meaning to life are your connections with others and humour (mixed with equal measure of humility and mischief).

Have you reread this book? If so, did you get something different from it on rereading? 

Yes, a couple of times, but more importantly it is a book I have remembered with others. Pennac is really good at helping his readers find connections with one another.

How did this book shape you? 

It taught me that who makes someone family is neither blood, nor love, but care, especially care that overcomes differences. We all seem strange to one another, but Au bonheur des ogres shows that that real evil come from refusing these differences.

Incidentally, the book was also an inspiration for my son’s middle name, Benjamin.  

What do you think it is about this book that made such an impact? 

How it treats very serious subject with so much compassion and humour.

Who do you think should read this book?   

Everyone (okay… this is not a book for a young kid, so… people between 14-104 years old?). This is the book that will find you where you are in your journey, a story that will mold itself to your mood. Certainly a book worth learning French so as to enjoy Pennac’s fun and flowing style.

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