Which Is Your Favorite This Time? A Reader’s Perspective

Several years ago during a class discussion about favorite stories and composition, a student asked me to identify my favorite line or scene from A Christmas Carol, and I couldn’t answer. Try as I might, I couldn’t pinpoint one. After class, the question haunted me. Why wasn’t I able to answer a simple question about one of my favorite stories that I read and watch every year? So, I did some digging in an old copy of the text I’d had since high school to find an answer. As I leafed through the tattered, dog-eared pages, I started reading annotations I’d made over the years. The tone and focus of each set of comments were as different as the multi-colored ink they were written in. It wasn’t long, somewhere around Old Fezziwig, that I found the answer to my question: I don’t have one favorite line or scene.

In those weathered pages, I noticed my favorite lines and scenes have changed almost every year according to how I have changed every year. I focus on a new line or scene based on what has become the focus for me at that moment in my life. Preferences change around what I, the reader, have brought to the story this time. It isn’t the story, the author, or the author’s intention that have changed, it is I, the reader, who am the variable as every individual in the audience is a new and different variable to a stationary story, “for the code cannot be destroyed, it can only be played with” (Barthes, 1967, p. 2). The story, the text, is meant to be reinterpreted, morphed by the reader who seeks and discovers what the reader needs not what the author gives. As Mallarme as cited in Barthes’ Death of an Author states, “it is the language that speaks, not the author” (1967, p. 2) and Barthes who reminds us, “language knows a ‘subject,’ not a ‘person’ (1967, p. 3). A reading of a story is not a destination; it is a multi-faceted, ongoing journey of self, where authors die and readers are continuously reborn every time they read and re-read.

Barthes’ image of literature being a place where “all identity is lost” (1967, p. 1) is reminiscent of the Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel (1941) the infinite, hexagonal space where symmetrical books full of equal word count are housed, where all knowledge is present, but it is up to the readers, the librarians, to discover this knowledge in their own time and own way. In this respect, the words stay the same; the reader, and therefore the knowledge, changes. If everyone is given the same interpretation and knowledge (the author’s intent/point of view), then there is no need for search or discovery. If readers are handed a meaning, if the text comes ‘as is,’ then there is no need for literary criticism. Why print a new edition of a text or make a new version of a film if the original is the only one readers need?

Barthes and Borges suggest the answer can be found in the messiness of humanity, in the perpetual rebirth of a reader. Borges alludes to the messy business of interpreting texts with his small, isolated bathrooms and the downplayed image of the librarian. Barthes tells readers that the author is a mere performer, an imitator, and posits a reader’s heuristic journey where texts become the tools with which readers explore and experiment, trip over themselves, change their direction, and as Barthes posits “traverse, not penetrate” (1967, p. 5) the space of writing. Through that journey, the author’s death, readers can be reborn, and in Borges’ library, they can be reborn perpetually to find their knowledge in their time. A reader’s inability to choose one favorite line this time or remain static in any text is necessary for their own stories, their own being, their own growth. And like Scrooge, their ‘failure’ of choice transforms into their triumph of reclamation.


Barthes, R. (1967). The death of the author [pdf]. Retrieved from death_authorbarthes.pdf

Borges, J. L. (1941). The library of Babel [pdf]. Retrieved from https://maskofreason.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/the-library-of-babel-by-jorge-luis-borges.pdf 

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