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How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read Paperback – September 29, 2009
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“Brilliant…A witty and useful piece of literary sociology.” ―London Review of Books
“I read and adored Pierre Bayard's book. It's funny, smart, and so true--a wonderful combination of slick French philosophizing and tongue-in-cheek wit, and an honest appraisal of what it means, or doesn't mean, to read.” ―Claire M essud, author of The Emperor's Children
About the Author
Pierre Bayard is a professor of French literature at the University of Paris VIII and a psychoanalyst. He is the author of Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, and many other books.
Top Customer Reviews
The author, a Professor of French Literature and a psychoanalyst, assures us that "it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven't read it in its entirety--or even opened it." Whew, what a relief! In addition, Bayard informs guilt-ridden non-readers that they are in very good company, since "mendacity is the rule" when it comes to reading. Few individuals who wish to be taken seriously by their peers will admit to never having read certain "canonical texts," so they simply lie and pretend to have read them. The whole spectrum of non-reading is covered here: books we've never cracked open, those we've merely skimmed, books that we've never laid eyes on but have heard about from others, and those that we read years ago and have long since forgotten. When books fade from our consciousness, we might as well not have read them at all, Bayard asserts. In many cases, "Our relation to books is a shadowy space haunted by the ghosts of memory....Read more ›
A teacher of French literature and a psychoanalyst, Bayard recognized the phenomenon of non-reading and apparently decided to address it. The surprising thing is that everyone in the book group confessed to being guilty of one sort of non-reading or another. Until Bayard laid it all out, some of us were not even aware of the different ways in which to "non-read" a work: there's skimming, not even opening the book, hearing about it from others, reading reviews, etc. Worst of all, there is reading it then forgetting one had ever done so. The latter I do disagree with, for even though I might not be able to recall anything about the content on my own, I can be reminded by someone else. And having read a work, it becomes part of who I am, even if subliminally.
By using the works of others to illustrate his points, Bayard brings to the reader the value of even well-known stories, and puts us in touch with obscure stories in which having read or not read something is a part. His including "Groundhog Day" was something of a surprise, yet it brought some of the discussion down from the heights of high literature, pointing out that some subjects are present in many genre. Hiding the fact that one has not read a book, or not being ashamed of not having read it, can be most cleverly done.
One of the charming things about this work is the beauty of the language. The translator did a marvelous job. Although the volume is slender, this is a work that should be savored, perhaps even re-read. It's worth the time and money.
He has a point. Few people hesitate to offer opinions on subjects about which they know little. Indeed, social discourse would decline precipitously if we didn't. Discussion of books is no exception. Bayard claims that only finance and sex can compete with books as subjects for which people so often exaggerate their achievement. I don't doubt that this is true in France, where literature is practically fetishized. Bayard believes that achieving cultural literacy is a more practical and worthwhile goal for the average reader than absorbing the literature itself, and this is easily achieved through cursory or indirect contact with books.
He has a point there too. Cultural literacy is by and large achieved indirectly. People do come to understand a book's place in the culture through talk of the book more than by reading the book itself. In this way, books (and other media) are the equivalent of the stories in which oral cultures for thousands of years imbedded the values, anxieties, and information that shaped their societies. It never mattered if anyone remembered the story exactly as they heard it.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is basically a book on how to be a bulls***ter. While his idea of seeing books as part of a collective library and in relation to other books as well as how we each hold an... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Anonymous
“There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all.”
That first sentence already sets the ironic tone of this book about our... Read more
The book is interesting in its dissection of the different types of "non-reading" as well as its example scenarios. Read morePublished 7 months ago by David Wynn
Three stars, not because it’s poorly written, but because the title is a tease. A better title would be “Why Not Talk About Books You Haven’t Read”. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Pierre Groussac
I don't know that I got exactly what Bayard wanted me to get from this book - but I gleaned that Bayard would say the book only exists in a reader's mind anyway. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Eugenia Luck
This is a really thoughtful read. As someone who (really does) read a LOT of books, I was most pleased to read about how to deal with the reality of forgetting books. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Ryan Mease
M. Bayard's book brings to mind a line from the movie Chariots of Fire, where, on the train on the way to the Olympics in France, the British Olympic Committee man remarks... Read morePublished 12 months ago by mc
I love to read nonfiction.. This book is heady, stuffy, and repetitive. I quit after two chapters.Published 14 months ago by AngelinaGB
My book club went around the room telling how many stars we'd give it. I told them that it was a folly to believe this text warranted stars at all. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Katzz