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How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read [Paperback]

By Pierre Bayard & Jeffrey Mehlman (Translator)
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Item Number 379460  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   185
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.84" Width: 4.96" Height: 0.56"
Weight:   0.36 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 14, 2009
Publisher   Bloomsbury USA
ISBN  1596915439  
EAN  9781596915435  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
"Provocative, challenging and witty...In challenging the line between reading and non-reading, Bayard actually whet my appetite to read more."--"USA Today

"With so many important books out there, and thousands more being published each year, what are we supposed to do in those inevitable social situations where we're forced to talk about books we haven't read? Pierre Bayard argues that it doesn't really matter if you've read a book or not. (In fact, in certain situations, reading the book is the worst thing you could do.) Championing the various forms of "non-reading," "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read "is really a celebration of books, for book lovers everywhere to enjoy, ponder, argue about--and perhaps even read.

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More About Pierre Bayard & Jeffrey Mehlman

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Pierre Bayard is a professor of French literature at the University of Paris VIII and a psychoanalyst. He is the author of Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, and many other books.

Pierre Bayard was born in 1954.

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1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Books & Reading > General   [665  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Don't read this review  Oct 24, 2008
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman

Writing a review of this book after reading it is somewhat problematic for several reasons. I selected it based on the idiosyncratic and seemingly tongue-in-cheek title, because of a propensity I have been accused of indulging in the past, particularly related to movies I haven't seen.

Turns out, Bayard is quite serious, and maybe quite right. Selecting a particular book to read entails, especially in today's avalanche of printed materials, the rejection of the overwhelming flood of books one has now chosen not to read. I consider myself a voracious reader, and having kept a database of reviews of every book I have read since mid-2002, I realize that while reading 625 books over those 80 months, I have fallen drastically far behind. Without googling the publishing statistics, I would gainsay that there have been many single days in that time period where more new books were published than I read over the 80 months. Bayard tells of a character, a librarian, in a book called "The Man Without Qualities" by Robert Musil; the librarian, faced with the impossibility of knowing all the books, resolves never to read any of them, only reading books about books.

As Bayard elucidates, cultural literacy depends not on having read any particular book (in opposition to educators and critics who provide us with lists of essential knowledge and berate us for failing to absorb it), but on understanding the relationships between books. For example, Bayard uses the example of another literary character who has (fatally to his career as an English professor) admitted to not having read "Hamlet": "Ringbaum certainly has at his disposal a great deal of information about it and, in addition to Laurence Olivier's movie adaptation [which he had seen], is familiar with other plays by Shakespeare. Even without having had access to its contents, he is perfectly well equipped to gauge its position within the collective library."

'Collective library" is Bayard's term for the set of books that constitute our cultural literacy. This library, when it enters conversation, becomes a "virtual library" as each party in the conversation brings to the book their own "inner library." The books in these different libraries might have the same titles, but not the same content as each reader (or non-reader) brings a "screen book" (a mental image of what is in the book which may have been read, nonread, skimmed, forgotten, unknown, judged by its author, judged by its critics, judged by its reviews).

This is far from a justification of or argument for illiteracy; Bayard is never flippant about the value of non-reading, and suggests that it may be the most valuable form of reading (of which I have listed several forms in the previous parenthesis). One must be quite literate to discuss books not read because then one must be paying attention to the culture at large, understanding the shelving arrangements, as it were, of the collective library, paying very close attention to the words of the author and her critics, and using this knowledge to talk about the unread book in its context and relation to ones own creative ideas (Bayard quotes Oscar Wilde on the primacy of criticism, especially of books one has spent no more than ten minutes reading, as a creative and autobiographical activity).

In fact, the literature professor whose career crashed did so not because he had not read "Hamlet", but because he not only admitted it but insisted on the truth and verification of it during a silly parlor game. In doing so, he violated the invisible and amorphous "personal space" each of us maintains around us about what we know, what we surmise, what we pretend, and what we don't know. "In insisting on his ignorance, he excluded himself from the indefinite cultural space that we generally allow to reign between ourselves and others with which we tacitly accord ourselves--and simultaneously accord them-a margin of ignorance. We do of course know at some level that all cultural literacy, even the most highly developed, is constructed around gaps and fissures . . . that are no real obstacle to its taking on a certain consistency as a body of information" (p. 125). Interstingly, the fired literature professor's successor had not read "Hamlet" either, but wisely, no one asked him!

So, you can see, that by reading Bayard's book (although it is a book about books, so it does qualify in the librarian's world--I have a Master's in Library Science even though I don't use it in my current career!) the whole way through, I have not only nonread thousands of other books that were published since this book, but I placed myself at a disadvantage in reviewing it to Wilde's standards! (and yes, I do read every book I review, I responded in a comment to a review earlier this week with pride, a stance that I might not take so proudly now). Now you understand why I find writing this review somewhat problematic - I have by Bayard's terms thoroughly disqualified myself for the job!

In any case, this book certainly made me think and respond viscerally (and quote out loud to my wife to her annoyance) more than any book I have read in many months. I will personally commend it to my close friend who is a very thoughtful reader, and to my oldest daughter who is a second-year graduate English student and full-time adjunct professor at the Graduate Writing Center at Liberty University.
Clever & Entertaining Scholarship  Sep 16, 2008
Just a few chapters into this book reflected both the scholarship and the creativity of the author. I expected it to be a little LESS "scholarly" for the Average Joe & Jane reader, but I found it (ironically) fun to read anyway.
not funny enough, not insightful enough, just not good enough  Sep 15, 2008
SB--Skimmed book
It has some interesting, paradoxical insight, and it's mildly humourous, but in the end, I felt I wasted time reading it. I really don't like when a book is more than 50% summary of other books and lacks original writing. I was attracted to the book by the title, but was very disappointed.
If you like Derrida and his epigones, you'll love this  Sep 11, 2008
Bayard's book is short and humorous but by the end you find out that all he's really doing is pushing the same old Derridean, deconstructionist claptrap that places the reader/critcic/theorist above and superior to the work of literature. (Since "texts" have no meaning because language is inherently indeterminate, it is much more fun and, for academics, profitable, to deconstruct literature while laughing all the way to the Guggenheim Foundation.) While this book is great fun, it reminded me of why I prefer to keep myself as far away as possible from literary theorists. (For a different view, try "Against Theory" written in the early 80s by a couple of Berkeley profs for a (still) refreshing and humorous slap in the face of Herrnstein-Smith, et. al.) Vituperative? You bet.
Audio Books - Yet Another Way of not Reading a Book  Aug 10, 2008
There is wisdom and subtle humor in this book. There are rewards for all levels of effort, from close scrutiny, through skimming, sampling excerpts referenced in other books, to just seeing what the title brings to mind. The author stands with us, facing the grim reality that we cannot read every book we value. And he helps us cope. These points are made in the finest tradition of How to Lie With Statistics and similar books which teach responsible intellectual habits while seeming tongue-in-cheek to undermine them.

By all means read this book. Then mention the title in a discussion with your friends over lunch. If your group is large enough, someone will swallow the bait and object loudly to the dishonesty of discussing an unread book. It will almost certainly be someone who has not read the book. You will enjoy the resulting discussion more if you have read this book and savored it.

Enjoy your lunch...

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