How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

Pierre Bayard, a well-known professor of French Literature at the University of Paris, has written a new book advocating the art of skimming in place of actually reading a book “the scientific way.” Move over, Mortimer, you’re old school now.

His book, Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus (How to Talk about Books that You Haven’t Read), sold out in France and is soon to be published here in the States as well. It is destined for the best-seller list. According to the New York Times Magazine, his tips include:

  • How to talk about a book you have never read: Avoid precise details. Put aside rational thought. Let your sub-conscience express your personal relationship with the work.
  • How to review a book: Put it in front of you, close your eyes and try to perceive what may interest you about it. Then write about yourself.

While this advice is rubbish, it may appear that not all he has to say is that bad. For instance, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine he says, “I think a great reader is able to read from the first line to the last line; if you want to do that with some books, it’s necessary to skim other books. If you want to fall in love with someone, it’s necessary to meet many people. You see what I mean?” (10/28/07, p13).

Of course, I haven’t actually read the book. Ironic, isn’t it?

Read more here (New York Times – USA) and here (Times Online – UK).