How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, By Pierre Bayardtrs Jeffrey Mehlman

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A jeu d'esprit stretched out to 185 pages, HtTABYHR maintains, by use of dodgy logic and playful perversity, that talking about books you haven't read is not only a necessity but a creative activity to be proud of. It's full of paradoxes ("Reading is first and foremost non-reading"), and it's part of the joke that Pierre Bayard is obviously extremely well-read, a professor of literature who quotes Proust, Musil, Shakespeare, Valéry, Graham Greene, etc. He has a system of categorising books: SB (skim-read book), FB (forgotten book), HB (heard-of book) and UB (unknown book). A plus sign or double-plus sign indicate positive and extremely positive opinions, a minus or double-minus sign the opposites.

This is the sort of witty, provocative intellectualism that the French are so fond of, and if you're fond of it too then you'll love this. Personally, in my boring British empirical, way I maintain that you can only know (and enjoy) books by reading them. Bayard's point that when you're reading one book you're neglecting all the others is true but banal. Overall verdict: SB -. The fact that my opinion of Bayard's book is based on a skim-reading, however, suggests there must at least be something to his theory.