Sunday, February 25, 2007

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read: NYTimes II

From the NYTimes, again. For those who find that reading takes away from their video game, and arguing about Britney/Fed-ex, time....

PARIS, Feb. 23 — It may well be that too many books are published, but by good fortune, not all must be read. In practice, primed by publishers, critics, teachers, authors and word-of-mouth, a form of natural selection limits essential reading to those classics and best sellers that become part of civilized intellectual and social discourse.

Of course, many people don’t get through these books, either, and too embarrassed to admit it, they worry constantly about being exposed as philistines.

Now Pierre Bayard, a Paris University literature professor, has come to their rescue with a survivor’s guide to life in the chattering classes. And it is evidently much in need. “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?” has become a best seller here, with translation rights snapped up across Europe and under negotiation in Britain and the United States.

“I am surprised because I hadn’t imagined how guilty nonreaders feel,” Mr. Bayard, 52, said in an interview. “With this book, they can shake off their guilt without psychoanalysis, so it’s much cheaper.”

Mr. Bayard reassures them that there is no obligation to read, and confesses to lecturing students on books that he has either not read or has merely skimmed. And he recalls passionate exchanges with people who also have not read the book under discussion.

He further cites writers like Montaigne, who could not remember what he read, and Paul Valéry, who found ways of praising authors whose books he had never opened. Mr. Bayard finds characters in novels by Graham Greene, David Lodge and others who cheerfully question the need to read at all. And he refuses to be intimidated by Proust or Joyce.

Having demonstrated that non-readers are in good company, Mr. Bayard then offers tips on how to cover up ignorance of a “must-read” book.

Meeting a book’s author can be particularly tricky. Here, Mr. Bayard said there was no need to display knowledge of the book, since the author already has his own ideas about it. Rather, he said, the answer is “to speak well of it without entering into details.” Indeed, all the author needs to hear is that “one has loved what he has written.”


Ha! If someone tells me they love one of my books, I know right away they are lying. No one who has read my books loves them. My mom loved them, but she didn't read them.

(Nod to Anonyman, who reads. The articles, I mean, not just the centerfolds. No, really.)