Sunday, December 16, 2007

How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard

There is room in the bookstores for a small, humorous book with that title, presumably sarcastic in tone. Sadly, this book was written by a Frenchman, so, even as it attempts to say that actually knowing things is unnecessary, it builds a terribly detailed intellectual edifice to support that view.

It's amusing to note that Bayard creates long, convoluted theories about not reading, and buttresses his argument with many long quotes, from books that he has presumably read enough of to get those quotes. A true book devoted to talking about books one hasn't read would not require any outside reading on the part of the author, either. How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read implicitly assumes that reading certain books -- and you can guess which ones -- is terribly important, and that conversations among interesting people will revolve around those books. Perhaps I run with the wrong crowd, but I haven't found that to be the case.

Parts of How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read are amusing, but it's like one long cocktail party full of snobbish literary types, who all want to be thought intelligent and knowledgeable about things they all think each other know. For those of us who read books because we like them, there's very little point.

How do you talk about a book you haven't read? There are many ways, and Bayard only enumerates the most pretentious, snobbish, and boring ones. If you run with a crowd that only cares about "high art," this book may be useful. But new friends would be even more useful; anyone who could use the advice in this book is profoundly mixed up to begin with.


Anonymous said...

If you're after an hilarious book along that line, try the incredibly obscure "Literary Greats" by Frank Marrazza and John Samperi.

It's full of surreal and absurd (and totally incorrect) facts about great authors, allegedly to help you get by at dinner parties.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to think of a book -- any book -- that I would be embarrassed to admit I had not read.

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