How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bayard writes to everyone who has felt that flicker of panic at entering a bookstore and despair at leaving a library: there are so many books, and who has time to read them all? His solution is elegant: don't even try. He challenges conventional wisdom about the necessity to read the great canon of literature, given the vast numbers of books in the world. In fact, Bayard argues that we simply traverse books, recreating every text in the moments we remember or discuss them. Therefore it is far more important to understand where books fit into the larger scheme of art and literature.
Bayard is a practicing psychoanalyst known for iconoclastic readings of venerated texts (so French!), and his writing can be theoretical at times, leaning heavily toward reader response theory. Still, this book is small and light enough to be enjoyed by those who know nothing about literary criticism. His examples are culled from great literature, and may give you just what you need to talk about Proust and Graham Greene without blushing!
I know I've talked about this book a thousand times, but I'll mention it once more because it fits so well with Bayard's central point: So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid actually changed the way I read.
"Reading is first and foremost nonreading. Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening all the other books in the universe." - Bayard
"Reading is not just acquainting ourselves with a text or acquiring knowledge; it is also, from its first moments, an inevitable process of forgetting." - Bayard