Saturday, February 10, 2007

You don’t have to read a book to talk wisely about it

Full story from The Times.

Pierre Bayard, a French professor of literature who wrote a bestseller on how he comments authoritatively on books that he failed to finish, has forgotten or has never read. In fact, he often makes references in lectures, meetings, reviews and conversations to works that he has not read — without being found out.

Confession: we actually used to do that in English Lit classes. Try giving a presentation on James Joyce's Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man without having read it. It's do-able, especially when the rest of the class probably have not finished reading it either. It makes students who rely on Cliff Notes seem (almost) forgiveable. Afterall, at least they are trying, right?

Meanwhile, Pierre Bayard's book has been sold out and he insists that his not having finished reading - or even read the book - does not diminish his opinions or discussions on them.

Makes me wonder why someimes I feel I have to finish a book, meditate a little on it, before posting about it. Duh. In fact, why bother to read all 6 volumes of In Search of Lost Time? Just read the commentaries on it.

Perhaps we could all follow his advice below:

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

Oh dear, I think I'm guilty of all of the above.


Rebecca H. said...

I remember people doing this in grad school -- there would sometimes come a moment when they said something wrong and the room would get quiet and uncomfortable ... okay I remember one particular person doing this. I like this advice: "Put it in front of you, close your eyes and try to perceive what may interest you about it. Then write about yourself."

Imani said...

I'm afraid such acts are little more than blasphemy to me. I'd be too nervous to try and carry that off in class. I may not have properly finished the book, only skimming near the end but I'd make the effort.