Thursday, March 1, 2007

How to Discuss Books You Haven't Read — A Survivor's Guide

Hardly anyone (ok let me qualify that: Hardly anyone who is sane), reads the so called classics of literature. Quite right too. Why should anyone spend valuable time reading such sleep-inducers as Finnegans Wake, Ulysess, To the Lighthouse, or heaven forbid, Tess of the d'Urbervilles when there's so much of Harry Potter (and His Dark Materials Trilogy, Inheritance Series, Percy Jackson and so much more Fantasy Fiction) to read? And there's Wodehouse and there are those excellent books — the crime and action bestsellers. When there is hardly enough time to read those why would anyone want to be saddled with Marcel Proust going on and on about time and memory and pontificating on art in Remembrance of Things Past. There isn't even a dramatic discovery of a body in a library to enliven the proceedings a bit.

But unfortunately, when people get together and declare they love and read books, the kind of books that are discussed are the yawn-inducers mentioned above and which are hardly brought up in conversations outside a literature class room. People "name-drop" the heavy-weight titles and talk authoritatively about how a particular author argues so persuasively about situating the discussion carefully in the aporetic embrace of global capitalism lest it became a problematic anachronism. How then does a sane reader talk intelligently in such a gathering without reading the book or author in question and not be exposed as a philistine?

By reading Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

And in case you are wondering, yes, Bayard's book is a bestseller.

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