Summary and book reviews of How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

by Pierre Bayard

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 208 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The runaway French bestseller hailed by the New York Times as “a survivor’s guide to life in the chattering classes.”

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.

Ways of Reading: Books You Don't Know

(in which the reader will see, as demonstrated by a character of Musil's, that reading any particular book is a waste of time compared to keeping our perspective about books overall)

There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all. For any given reader, however dedicated he might be, such total abstention necessarily holds true for virtually everything that has been published, and thus in fact this constitutes our primary way of relating to books. We must not forget that even a prodigious reader never has access to more than an infinitesimal fraction of the books that exist. As a result, unless he abstains definitively from all conversation and all writing, he will find himself forever obliged to express his thoughts on books he hasn't read.

If we take this attitude to the extreme, we arrive at the case of the absolute non-reader, who never opens a book and yet knows them and ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

By all rights, I shouldn’t have to read this book. After all, Pierre Bayard begins with an epigraph from Oscar Wilde: "I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so." But I did read it, swiftly, ferociously, and with a pen in hand. Many times I underlined a sentence I admired, such as this one: "He who pokes his nose into a book is abandoning true cultivation, and perhaps even reading itself." But just as often, I underlined in fierce disagreement. This book isn’t, finally, about books, but about book conversation, and I had a particularly lively one with it.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

Full Review Members Only (646 words).

Media Reviews

New York Books - Sam Anderson

[A] witty and useful piece of literary sociology, designed to bring lasting peace of mind to the scrupulous souls who grow anxious whenever the book-talk around them becomes too specific, and either say nothing or else say too much, only to feel bad later on at having faked first-hand acquaintance with authors or titles they know they’ve either never read or totally forgotten.

New York Times

It may well be that too many books are published, but by good fortune, not all must be read…A survivor’s guide to life in the chattering classes…evidently much in need.

Publishers Weekly

A little too much impenetrable psychoanalytic jargon sometimes threatens to overwhelm Bayard's argument, but Bayard's at least partly tongue-in-cheek argument about not reading is well worth reading.

Les Inrockuptibles

With rare humor, Bayard liberally rethinks the social use [of literature] and the position of the reader…Read or skim How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Or simply listen to what people say about it so that you can talk about it with ease. In either case, you may not be able to forget it.

London Review of Books

Brilliant…A witty and useful piece of literary sociology, designed to bring lasting peace of mind to the scrupulous souls who grow anxious whenever the book-talk around them becomes too specific.

Author Blurb Clare Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children
I read and adored Pierre Bayard’s book. It's funny, smart, and so true—a wonderful combination of slick French philosophizing and tongue-in-cheek wit, and an honest appraisal of what it means, or doesn't mean, to read.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Pierre Bayard was born in 1954. He is a professor of literature at the University of Paris VIII, as well a practicing psychoanalyst. He has written over a dozen books, most of which have not been translated into English.

Bayard's best-known work in English prior to How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read is a work of literary detection entitled Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, published in 2000. In this book, Bayard dares to suggest that Hercule Poirot's solution to one of Agatha Christie's best-loved mysteries, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, is incorrect and that Christie has deliberately deceived the casual reader. On his way to fingering the real murderer, Bayard conducts a sustained investigation into the nature of detective...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, try these:

  • Our Tragic Universe jacket

    Our Tragic Universe

    by Scarlett Thomas

    Published 2011

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Smart, entrancing, and boiling over with Thomas's trademark big ideas, Our Tragic Universe is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, how we can rewrite our futures (if not our histories), and how stories just might save our lives.

  • The Possessed jacket

    The Possessed

    by Elif Batuman

    Published 2010

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    The true but unlikely stories of lives devoted — Absurdly! Melancholically! Beautifully! — to the Russian classics.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Marriage of Opposites
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's latest work, The Marriage of Opposites, is a historical fiction novel focusing on ...
  • Book Jacket: Miss Jane
    Miss Jane
    by Brad Watson
    National Book Award Finalist Brad Watson returns with an intimate novel about one woman's journey to...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Secret Language of Stones
    by M. J. Rose

    "A fantastic historical tale of war, love, loss and intrigue."
    – Melanie Benjamin

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!