Book review: How to Talk About Books You Havent Read

Controversial title for the book, right? I wonder how many people read this book only because of its title. You can think that this is some kind of a jokes book or, perhaps, a guide about cold reading technics. No, it is actually a serious book.

Before I tell you about the main idea in the book, I need to set some common grounds. First of all, people form opinion about books not only because of the text itself, but because of many external factors: the time when the book was written, the author, the country etc… For example you can’t imagine thinking about Mein Kempf disconnected from its author, time and historic events which took place before and after the publication of this book. More importantly, you can talk about it even without reading (disclaimer: I am not suggesting you read it, just making a point here).

Secondly, human memory is not perfect. We forget things. We believe things happened when they did’t. When more time pass since we read the text of the book, the less details we remember. We tend to gravitate to remembering just summary of it, and people/places/things which surrounded this book.

Thirdly, our own place in time and mind are affecting perception of a book. Same book read when we are 10, 30, 60 will result in different “book” in our minds. Events like engagement, great loss, or even different mood also will change how we perceive a book.

Now when we have established facts above it is time to look at what point Pierre Bayard is trying to make: what is the difference between talking about the book which you have read long time ago and almost forgotten and talking about the book which you never read but know what other people say about it and books place in history? I find this provoking thought very interesting. It would not put me off from reading books though.

The book itself was not very pleasant read for me. The way the author writes (may be it is problem of translation — the original is in french) is hard to comprehend sometime.

Summary: would I recommend reading this book? No. I don’t think you will get a lot of food for thought apart from idea described in this post.