Saturday, 10 November 2007

How to talk about books you have never read

It's the title of a book by Pierre Bayard, a professor of French Literature in Paris, who suggests that the two most common forms of reading are skimming and sampling. He maintains that it is perfectly possible to have a passionate conversation about a book without having read it. His aim is to stop people feeling guilty that they don't read.

His top tips, taken from an article in The Times

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.
How to discuss a book with its author:
Stick to generalities, remain ambiguous and say how much you like the work.

Another idea is to have a set of abbreviations - UB: book unknown to me; SB: book I have skimmed; HB: book I have heard about; and FB: book I have forgotten, to be included when citing books.

I love the whole concept. Skimming and sampling got me through almost every exam I ever did....

It's particularly refreshing that this comes from a French person. I cannot for one minute imagine that this method would go down well in the French education system which is (or used to be) very keen on the rote system of learning.

NB I haven't read his book.


  1. Ooooh, ooooooh - this made me laugh so much! Especially the one about how to discuss a book with it's author.

    I'm facing one who's coming across as incredibly pushy, impatient, self-centered - keenly absobred in the need to promote her own book without thinking about others. She's decidedly push and aggressive. I'm currently toying with how i should deal with her. Do i try to remain "graceful", or do i follow my gut feeling that this probably requires a stronger hand so that this woman stops treating our group "without grace"? The book so far is progressing well, a triumphant "thumbs up" - however the manner in which this author is trying to dictate and milk "profuse positive appraisal" is getting rather awkward. Guess i need to tell her to back-off and let the book speak for itself, apease her paranoia.

    Another author on the otherhand, shares so many personal resemblances to us and we can't help but get curious to her personal life and how it relates to the book, which is a real-life memoir. She is open to sharing, being playful with the journey. Am i doing the wrong thing by focusing on specifics, nutting out ambiguities and saying how much we like the work because it's good anyway?

    Another author - so "closed", rude, self-interested, exceedingly arrogant and the work truly SUCKS too. Any suggestions on how to deal with instances of coming across a piece of writing where positive appraisal of any kind would be truly doing a great dis-service to our redearship whilst we pray for the souls of the trees that have been sacrificed towards the production of that book?

    *lol* Ah well, not easy - guess we'll find our way through this but open to suggestions.

    Chinua Achebe arrived the other day, thank you! I shall write up a post with a photo of it in my house soon ;D

    Have a great week!

  2. So glad you enjoyed it because it did make me laugh.

    Discussing a book with its author must be incredibly difficult. I suppose you do have to try to find something positive to say but at the same time, I for one appreciate an honest review. I've become heartily sick reading something with great reviews only to find rubbish.

    Happy to hear that the Chinua Achebe arrived safely!


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