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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard, trans by Jeffry Mehlman

Publisher:Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 1596915439
Pages: 208pgs
Genre: Non-fiction
Challenges-Read’n’Review Challenge, 100+ Reading Challenge

Synopsis from the Publisher
If civilized people are expected to have read all important works of literature, and thousands more books are published every year, what are we supposed to do in those awkward social situations in which we’re forced to talk about books we haven’t read? In this delightfully witty, provocative book, a huge hit in France that has drawn attention from critics around the world, literature professor and psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard argues that it’s actually more important to know a book’s role in our collective library than its details. Using examples from such writers as Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Montaigne, and Umberto Eco, and even the movie Groundhog Day, he describes the many varieties of “non-reading” and the horribly sticky social situations that might confront us, and then offers his advice on what to do. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, 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 read and absorb them. It’s the book that readers everywhere will be talking about—and despite themselves, reading—this holiday season.
My Review:

I began reading Bayard's book expecting and hoping for a good laugh. I was disappointed. Not by the merit of the book but because it is, in fact, very serious in tone. Whether or not you identify this book as satire or theory, any reader who has encountered that "impossibly boring book" will understand the merit of Bayard's ideas whether he intended the reader to take him seriously or not.

This book seemed to go against every belief I have ever had about books and reading. I was told from when I was very young that the more I read the more I learn. I did not feel comfortable with the fact that this idea was being challenged. I began reading this book with intense skepticism and the intense desire to find something wrong with Bayard's argument. Instead, I found myself agreeing with him.

There are always books we cannot make ourselves read or we start reading them numerous times only to give up and put them back on the shelf. These books induce headaches, misery and coma-like sleep states. We force ourselves to sit through hours upon hours of unpleasant reading all the while retaining nothing of what we read. We could easily be reading something enjoyable or doing something more important. If we simply must read this book, a skim is definitely preferable to hours of torture.

I found myself employing Bayard's techniques without even knowing it. I have a feeling I will keep doing so. The is the type of book that teaches you without you even knowing it. The only criticism I have is that there were simply too many quotes. It made the prose seem choppy. Other than that, this is definitely worth a read even if it seems you will not agree.

*A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review. My opinion is my own and has not been influenced in any way and any monies made from associate or affiliate accounts are recycled back into the blog.


  1. I have been wanting to read this since I read Bayard's book on Sherlock Holmes! (I reviewed it a couple weeks ago. Bayard claims Holmes made a mistake in the Hound of the Baskervilles and accused the wrong man.) I also want to read the one where he argues Hamlet, not Claudius, killed the king, but that one apparently hasn't been translated out of the French yet.

    This book seems more serious in tone, where the other ones were lighter, but I think it might come in handy for a few of my classes this year. :)

    Happy Reading!

  2. I always get so upset when books I want to read are not translated into English yet. I have tried to force myself to learn another language but it never took.

    It definitely comes in handy in classes. Especially on those pesky novels that everyone talks about but no one reads.



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