Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to Talk About Books You've Never Read by Pierre Bayard

This is one of the books that I keep thinking I've read, but it turns out I haven't. Although after reading this, I realised that for some reason, I knew enough of the book to summarise it, even before reading. So I guess, in a way, this proves the author's premise?

Basically, How to Talk About Books You've Never Read makes the argument for non-reading. The argument is simple: If you want to be cultured, you do not want to read. You want to know enough of the books to be able to place them in context, and to know how they relate to one another. If you can do that, you can deliver talks about books you've haven't read, only heard about, skimmed briefly, or even read and have forgotten.

The book itself is extremely easy to read. Of course, since the author claims to have not read or has forgotten many of the books he talks about (you can see by the notation he provides each time a new book comes out), I am extremely skeptical about anything related to details. But, I do accept the basic premise that you don't have to read a book to be able to give your opinion on it.

In a way, this isn't a how-to guide. It's more a treatise on the function and place of books. If you think that books are important not for their content, but for the ways they connect to other books, then yeah, this book is going to affirm all your beliefs.

Personally, I'm going to stick to reading. True, I'll probably get bogged down in the details, but that's the beauty of it. I don't really need to be seen as a "cultured" person, in the definition that he uses for culture. I want to be seen as an enthusiast. If I talk about a book (or more accurately, if I fangirl over a book), then I want to be able to know so much that I either bore the listener, or find that I have a new kindred friend. Will I ever know enough to master even one genre? Nope. I don't read read primarily in one genre. But, I will be reading (an rereading) the books that catch my eye, and I will be talking about them in as much detail as I wish.

This doesn't mean that I'm completely ignorant of the book's place in the big web of books. It just means that instead of the web, I prefer to look at the book. I may zoom out occasionally to orientate myself, but that's not my preoccupation. The details are.


  1. It's an interesting premise. I think it's true. People can and do talk about books they haven' read all the time. The downside is that usually people who HAVE read the book in question can tell that the other people got most of their information from the book jacket or Wikipedia. So it's definitely not something to try if you're afraid of getting caught out. :p

    I agree with you, though. Reading books is part of the pleasure and the point. Wanting to be able to talk about books without having read them is missing the point at best, extremely pretentious at worst.

    1. EXACTLY. Reading is not where you want to be a jack of all trades.


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