How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read


Author: Pierre Bayard, Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman

Title: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publication Date: 2007

Geographical Setting: Paris, France

Time Period: Contemporary

Summary: Pierre Bayard, a professor of Literature at a Paris University, wants to assuage the guilt associated with non-reading.  Believing the guilt to be part of a larger fear of culture, he attempts to build the confidence needed to discuss books that you have not read.  He offers advice on books “you don’t know”, “have skimmed”, and “heard of” in different confrontations and then delves into psychoanalytical advice on behavior and confidence.  Along the way he mentions characters and writers he has come across, with footnotes that label his level of non-reading for the particular book, who exemplify non-reading including Oscar Wilde, Paul Valery, and Michel de Montaigne.

Subject Headings: Literature-History and Criticism-Theory, Psychoanalysis, Books and Reading

Appeal: humorous, thought-provoking, insightful, literary, candid, frank, witty, informative, satirical, philosophical, tongue-in-cheek, practical, lucid, subtle

Three terms that best describe this book: Witty, thought-provoking, and satirical

Three relevant works of fiction:

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil: The man without qualities is a thirty-something who is not ambitious nor contemplative and is no longer passionate about the only aspect of life he once cared for, mathematics. The librarian, a proud non-reader, claims to never have read a single book in order to know about them all equally.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: A post-modern take on a historical murder mystery set in a medieval Italian library that is based on Umberto Eco’s theory of Reader Response, similar to Bayard’s claims. The Inquisitionists are out to destroy a book that has the potential to ruin people’s lives.

Small World: An Academic Romance by David Lodge: Here is an entertaining look into the world of literary criticism.  Lodge’s characters, young academicians, try to find love at their yearly conferences, which are their break from work. An interesting look into the world of those who decide which books and acclaimed and which are not.

Three relevant works of non-fiction:

How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom: Bloom, also a Literature professor, promotes books and reading rather than satirically avoiding it like Bayard, but the subject matter and the authors opinions are the same: reading matters.

Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading: Otherwise edited by Shoshana Felman: The definitive collection on the link between Literature and Psychoanalysis.

Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature by David H. Richter: Richter examines why we read, what we read, and how we read.  He discussed these topics with students, critics, writers, and teachers and summarized his findings in this work.

-Mike Monahan

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