Thursday, December 30, 2010

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

"If you don't read one book this year, make this be the one."
Is reading books really so important? If the people who are supposed to read books--scholars, intellectuals and teachers of literature--can't even get around to reading all of the more important works from history, and can't keep up with the thousands more published each year, and can't retain all of what they read anyway, why should average individuals be encouraged to do the same? It probably doesn't matter, unless you're confronted with having to talk about the books in question which you haven't read but are expected to have read. There are a variety of methods to employ when considering this dilemna of which author Pierre Bayard humorously points out in this little book on books. It's chiefly more important to know a book's role than it's key plot points, sentence stylings or verbage. After all, why would you want to read a great book just for its content and not for its context.
Using examples from such writers as Balzac, Dumas, Wilde, Montaigne, Umberto Eco, and even the late Graham Greene, Bayard describes the many varieties of "non-reading" and contextualizing the 'role' of a book that we haven't yet read but either vaguely pricks our memory or conjures up associations with certain themes and ideologies. It may not be the most ethical way of going about your reading list, but it's certainly one of the most pragmatic and admirably honest instruction manuals on how to casually sound like you know what you're talking about. Funny, provocative and most of all very practical, 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 select, read and absorb the books which do or don't cross our paths. This book is one in which, like the books it exposes, doesn't need to be read to really be appreciated--but you may like reading it all the way through just the same if only for the humor. (809 BAYARD)

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