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How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

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3.42  ·  Rating details ·  3,745 ratings  ·  841 reviews
If cultured people are expected to have read all the significant works of literature, and thousands more are published each year, what are we supposed to do in those inevitable social situations where 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 and readers around t
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Hardcover, First U.S. Edition, 185 pages
Published October 30th 2007 by Bloomsbury (first published January 11th 2007)
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Katherine Cowley
If Pierre Bayard was in charge of Goodreads, the three standard categories (Read, Currently Reading, Want to Read) would be entirely eliminated. Instead there would be: Books that are unknown to me (I don't know about them and am not aware of them); Books that I have skimmed; Books that I have heard about (you can know lots about Romeo and Juliet even if you've never read the play); and finally, Books that I have Forgotten.

You will note that there is no category for having read a book, for as so
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Manny
Most of the people who criticize this book are referring to the English translation How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read. If you take the trouble to consult the original French edition, you'll see all sorts of clever allusions to the intertextual tradition that has grown up in Continental Philosophy over the last 40 years, many of which are lost in the transition to a different language. When Derrida observed that nous sommes tous des bricoleurs, he was stating a daring new thesis. Now, when ...more
Jason Pettus
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is one of four newish books I recently read mostly so I could finally get them off my queue list, all of which were actually pretty good but are mere wisps of manuscripts, none of them over 150 pages or so in length. This one is the surprisingly thoughtful How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, by a hip French literature professor named Pierre Bayard; because make no mistake, this is not exactly a practical how-to guide to faking your way through cocktail parties, but more a sneaky exami ...more
Debnance
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Catchy title. Was it a parody? Was the author writing in earnest? I heard an interview with the author on NPR and realized there might be more to this book than I’d initially thought.

Bayard defintes “books you haven’t read” broadly, including the obvious “books never opened”, but adding “books skimmed”, “books you’ve heard about but that you’ve never read”, and “books you’ve read but that you’ve forgotten.” Whew! That doesn’t leave much to put into the book log for the year, does it? How many bo
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David
Mar 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2010
This book, which I read in its entirety, is about 25% sensible commentary wrapped in an irritating froth of supercilious bullshit. Professor Bayard has a number of observations to make about the whole exercise of reading, some of which are insightful and on point and many of which are bloody obvious. The irritating part is that each little nugget is presented with the kind of self-congratulatory smugness befitting a Faberge egg. But, for the most part, the professor doesn't scintillate nearly as ...more
Alexa Garvoille
Dec 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: High School English Teachers, Reader-Response Theory Junkies
I should say as a disclaimer that I actually took a course with Pierre Bayard at the Université de Paris 8 a few years back and would like to share two observations on that point: first, the course I took was titled "Madame Bovary," yet at no point in the course did we actually read Flaubert; second, Bayard is much more engaging (not to mention friendlier and less pompous) in print.
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Bayard's playful essay-livre is a simple retelling of Reader-Response Theory crafted for the thoughtfully self-a
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Chadi Raheb
Aug 17, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: app-taqche, trash
The most boring book ever I gave up on after wasting so much time on the half of it forcing myself to keep reading!
Wanda
Why would you want to talk about books you haven't read? There are myriads of reasons. Maybe you're just discussing life and literature in general with a friend. It's nice to discuss a book that they've enjoyed even if you haven't. Maybe you need to sound knowledgeable during a course or to not let your book club know that you never got around to this month's book. (There's a book club example of a woman trying to fake it, unsuccessfully, early in The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampir ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Tata J as birthday gift in 2009
This books tries to make us all less guilty about not reading books. I agree that in reality we will never have time to read all the books even those that critics recommend in say 1001 BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE or even the shorter 501 MUST READ BOOKS. We can browse and skim and claim that we were able to read them all but who are we fooling?

This is precisely why Bayard, a college literature professor in Paris came up with this sensational book: it teaches us how to not read a book but s
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xray iris
Dec 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
Didn't actually read it--I didn't care for the design. So I suppose I shouldn't have it on the "read" shelf. I got the sense of the thing, and it spent a lot of time on my night table. But I already know, anyway, how to talk about books I haven't read. ...more
Abigail
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
It is clear to me, after reading Pierre Bayard's treatise on the art of "non-reading," that my circle of friends and acquaintances, which I had until now considered to be fairly literate, must surely be lacking the elevated cultural sensibility that seems to pertain in Parisian academia. I freely confess it: there are any number of towering works of genius, pillars of the literary canon, which I have never so much as cracked. But despite the complete candor with which I discuss the subject, I ca ...more
Wayne
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cheats,liars,...most folks I guess!!!
Recommended to Wayne by: a non-reader

Pierre Bayard ISN'T THAT DUMB !!!!!!!

Perhaps he's just being very TRES FRANCAIS ???
He's certainly CLEVER
therefore...WITTY.
So...THOUGHT PROVOKING.

Only a DUMBO would try to talk about a book they hadn't read.
(I doubt if a DUMBO could 'GET' this book anyway.)
It'a about LOTS of other very amusing ideas to do with books,
and so should be readily lapped up by...
well,like people on...
...GOODREADS, of course!!!!
(although we have ALL met those we regard as DUMBOS on Goodreads
and WE sure AREN'T them !!!?
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JZ
I don't even know how to talk about this book. I checked it out solely on the title. I found it to be too funny for subtlety.

As I listen, at the only speed I'm offered by iTunes, I feel that it just goes by too fast, because the wit is sometimes too quick, and I go, "Oh, no, you did-unt" and need to back up.

I know that I have a strange sense of humor, and I laugh at shit no one else gets. OK, shoot me, but I'm happy(er than you are).

Particularly around Chapter 7, I began to really get his sly
...more
Liz
Nov 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
it sounds like it's gonna be some smarmy satire on the pretensions of the chattering classes but it's not like that at all. bayard argues that talking about books you haven't read requires an understanding of their context, the larger narratives they draw on, the reactions they provoke, and the function they fulfill; that it fosters creativity, human connection through sparkling conversation, and the reinterpretation of texts to fit social needs; that nobody has ever and can ever read all of the ...more
Laine Bergeson
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a dense but strangely delightful book by a French philosopher, Pierre Bayard, about the act of reading a book and why, at it's core, reading a book is about the same as not reading a book and how, pretty much, we could practically be the author of a book and still manage not to have read it. Somehow his argument makes complete sense — and none at all — all at the same time.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the book is the irony inherent in reducing the act of reading to an act of non-re
...more
Joséphine
This book in part fascinated me and infuriated me. Sometimes at the same time, but mostly the fascination/irritation balance changed every chapter, at every new provocative-but-kind-of-interesting idea that Bayard introduced.

It's definitely not about enjoying a good book (which, for me, is most important ?! but he doesn't mention it once) but about talking about books and making our own opinion of them.
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Miguel Teles
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Despite the title suggesting, on a first encounter, that this could be a frivolous and empty book (as one more of those How To...) reading it reveals us afterall a comic and ingenious exposition of a literary/literary criticism theory, the reader-response theory (for another metaphor on this issue read the equally humourous and cunning Jorge Luis Borges in his "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" from Ficciones).

Besides that, the author introduces to us interesting concepts as collective libra
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Michael
160423: this is a much later comment: i have read a few books since this one, not simply so i can talk about them, and in writing many reviews mostly on philosophy books of the continental style, i have thought more about his suggestion of being told by critics what books not to read. yes some books are uninteresting because you have read something like it, many somethings like it, before. yes there are too many good books to read that a bad book is an annoying waste of time. but this is really ...more
Valentina Vekovishcheva
Jan 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A perfectly fun and intelligent guide to overcoming the fear of culture
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Dec 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read2011
I was looking for a resource to help the students in my music research class learn how to understand what a book included without reading it, particularly when needing to work through a lot of material and evaluating resources for potential research topics. A colleague recommended this book to me, and it did have some helpful tidbits I will be able to use with my class.

I don't disagree with the author in the sense that I think you don't necessarily need to have read a book in order to understand
...more
نیلوفر رحمانیان
A very fantasting book, almost took me a day to read it. Although i couldnt shut that voice inside me up yelling : hey i wanna reAd books i enjoyed reading it although the book itself yearned for not being read. It was so witty. As the author counts the advantages of not reading and even blaming the act of reading he wittingly brings up a much more complicated idea than simply to read or not to read. He brings up facts and criticizes a number of books which was surely encouraging me to think and ...more
Jade Pope
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Parisa
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
It is basically about "how to be a con artist in the academic context" ...more
Ryan
Mar 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure I've ever felt so guilty reading a book as I did reading Pierre Bayard's argument that people should mostly not read the books they claim to know about.

In How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, Bayard gleefully points to the limits of our prudish reading expectations and defends holding forth on books you haven't read, that you've read and forgotten, and that you've read and skimmed. In fact, one of my best friends does this all the time, though he always says "I've read around"
...more
Stephen Curran
Nov 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Hiding behind a cheeky title that suggests a how-to guide for bullshitters, this is Pierre Bayard's call for us to change the way we think about books and reading. Society, he claims, teaches us from a young age to feel ashamed about gaps in our literary knowledge. This shame compels us to lie about what we have read, as if reading is a competition. In encouraging us to reject this compulsion, Bayard asks us to question what it means to 'have read' a book anyway. If someone studied Moby Dick twe ...more
Rebecca
Dec 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french, non-fiction
This philosophical book touting the benefits of not reading books one wants to discuss in order to access the full meaning is thought-provoking and mind-bending. M. Bayard makes incredibly provocative arguments for his case and I found this work quite an enjoyable read.

Bayard's theories have cut me to the quick; He has called my bluff on many reasons why I read and brings up so many thoughts/issues I have felt regarding the urgency and necessity to read as many books as possible in this short li
...more
Akemi G.
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
What does it mean to read? Is it about following the words to the last page?
Stats say that first time reading comprehension (i.e., just read the passage once) averages around 65%. In other words, most people miss/misunderstand one out of three things they read. No wonder there are reviews that make me scratch my head, wondering if they are talking about the same book as I remember to have read.

There is another thing. I've been accused of being influenced by books/authors I haven't read, includi
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Judyta Szaciłło
Bayard hasn't created enough categories of books that haven't been read. He has mentioned books that we heard of, books that we skimmed through, books that we read and then forgot them, and books that we neither read nor heard of entirely.

But there was one category missing: books that you started but didn't finish. To me, this one is such a book. It was a mention in the press some years ago that tempted me to put this title on my to-read list, but it was, as it now turns out, a bit misleading.
...more
John Schwabacher
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
It was kind of a surprise to find that this book is actually fairly serious. Bayard argues that it is simplistic to say you've "read" or "haven't read" a given book. More important is whether you can place the book in relation to literature as a whole. He posits a whole range of "books", including "screen books", phantom books", and "inner books". These distinctions have to do with one's experiences of books individually and relative to others's conceptions of the same "actual" book.
Each chapter
...more
Sarah
Dec 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grownup, book-club
A true masterpiece of postmodern criticism, simultaneously absurd, self-mocking, and absolutely serious. Bayard argues that we’ve created a false dichotomy: books we’ve read and books we haven’t and proposes a more accurate taxonomy: “unread,” “skimmed,” “heard about,” “forgotten.” In each chapter Bayard uses literary examples of characters talking about books they haven’t read to develop his argument that reading is elusive: “It is first difficult to know whether we ourselves have read a book, ...more
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Pierre Bayard (born 1954) is a French author, professor of literature and connoisseur of psychology.

Bayard's recent book Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus?, or "How to talk about books you haven't read", is a bestseller in France and has received much critical attention in English language press.

A few of his books present revisionist readings of famous fictional mysteries. Not only do
...more

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