How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is a book by Pierre Bayard, a professor of French literature at the University of Paris. In what is a bit of a provocative book and one that relies on more than a small measure of wit, Bayard argues that not having read a book does not need to serve as an impediment in having an interesting and intelligent discussion about it. He goes so far as to argue that in some cases the worst thing you can do, the thing that would most dishonor a book, is to read it.

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“Reading is first and foremost non-reading,” he says. “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.” Therefore even the most prolific reader does far more non-reading than he does reading and makes far more decisions not to read than to read. Non-reading is a genuine activity as much as reading is a genuine activity. It is not just the mere absence of reading; it is a choice not to read particular works. And yet, he argues, non-reading should not prohibit us from having intelligent and guilt-free discussion about books we have chosen not to read.

So tell me. What do you think of his book?