How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

Book - 2007
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Baker & Taylor
Presents strategies for discussing books in social situations that readers have forgotten or haven't read, offering examples by writers such as Graham Greene and Umberto Eco.

McMillan Palgrave

If civilized people are expected to have read all important works of literature, and thousands more books are published every year, what are we supposed to do in those awkward social situations in which we're forced to talk about books we haven't read? In this delightfully witty, provocative book, a huge hit in France that has drawn huge attention from critics around the world, literature professor and psychoanalyst Bayard argues that it's actually more important to know a book's role in our collective library than its details. Using examples from such writers as Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Montaigne, and Umberto Eco, and even the movie Groundhog Day, he describes the many varieties of "non-reading" and the horribly sticky social situations that might confront us, and then offers his advice on what to do. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is in the end a love letter to books, offering a whole new perspective on how we read and absorb them. It's the book that readers everywhere will be talking about-and despite themselves, reading-this holiday season.

Check out these articles about the French edition of How to Talk about Books you Haven't Read:

New York Times - 'Read It? No, but You Can Skim a Few Pages and Fake It' by Alan Riding
(also published in the International Herald Tribune)

Chronicle of Higher Education - 'Huckleberry Who? by Lennard J. Davis

Times Online (UK edition) - 'Viewpoint' by Sarah Vine

The Harvard Crimson - 'You've Read 'Gravity's Rainbow'? Bullshit'm by Madeline K. B. Ross

Broad Street Review - 'The only book you'll ever need' by Leonard Boasberg

& Taylor

A lighthearted and provocative French best-seller argues that it is more important to understand a book's relevance than to be familiar with its details, drawing on examples from key modern works while offering specific advice on how to speak knowledgeably in a variety of social occasions.

Publisher: New York, NY : Bloomsbury USA, 2007
Edition: First U.S. edition
ISBN: 9781596914698
Branch Call Number: 809 Bayard 2007
Characteristics: xix, 185 pages ; 21 cm


From the critics

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Dec 04, 2009

I saw this book in my local (and independent, I hasten to add) bookstore about three months ago and put it on hold at my local library, thus failing to support my local bookstore, but since I bought six gift certificates there as end-of-school-year presents for my daughter's teachers, my guilt is somewhat muted. What drew my attention to this book in the bookstore was a delightful passage in which an American scholar, in an attempt to prove her hypothesis that Shakespeare transcends cultural boundaries, retells the story of Hamlet to the Tiv tribe in West Africa. Somewhat to her consternation, the elders' response is mild reproof:

"Why was he (Hamlet's dead father) no longer their chief?"
"He was dead," I explained. "That is why they were troubled and afraid when they saw him."
"Impossible," began one of the elders, handing his pipe on to his neighbour, who interrupted, "Of course it wasn't the dead chief. It was an omen sent by a witch. Go on."

When I finally got my sticky fingers on the tome (being something like 51st in line on the holds list), I was confronted with the Table of Contents:

Ways of Not Reading
I. Books You Don't Know
II. Books You Have Skimmed
III. Books You Have Heard Of
IV. Books You Have Forgotten

...and so on. So one may be forgiven for thinking the book is written entirely tongue-in-cheek, especially when one discovers that the author, a rather dishy professor of French literature at the University of Paris (and a psychoanalyst to boot), has footnoted every mentioned book with his own key system (featured after the Table of Contents). For example, James Joyce's Ulysses is footnoted as "HB++", which means "I've heard about this book and have an extremely positive opinion of it.". Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (that's right, isn't it?), on the other hand, is coded as "SB and FB-": "I have skimmed this book and forgotten it and don't have a high opinion of it."

Presumably Pierre Bayard has read some books, presumably those from which he has quoted extensively, but I'm never quite sure how much he's joking. He might not be. I'd probably be more sure if I'd done more than skim this book, but I do have quite a high opinion of it...

I wonder if I should revise my bookshelves to Professeur Bayard's system....

drewsattack Sep 02, 2009

I thought that it would be a satirical book but it actually reads like a textbook but in a good way. Interesting.


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Jun 27, 2016

Thought-provoking, this book will remind readers of sitting in a college literature discussion. This book explores many controversial ideas about whether reading is actually worth the time, if forgetting books is not like they were even written, and if skimming books allows readers to have more original ideas. Most of all, this book teaches readers how to discuss books they haven't read in social environments.


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