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How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  3,403 ratings  ·  771 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
Hardcover, First U.S. Edition, 185 pages
Published October 30th 2007 by Bloomsbury (first published January 11th 2007)
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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
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
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
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
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
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.
Bayard's playful essay-livre is a simple retelling of Reader-Response Theory crafted for the thoughtfully self-a
Chadi Raheb
Aug 17, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The most boring book ever I gave up on after wasting so much time on the half of it forcing myself to keep reading!
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
X-ray 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.
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

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 !!!?
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
It is basically about "how to be a con artist in the academic context"
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 only an ...more
Dec 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, french
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
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
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
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
Nov 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man" wrote Heraclitus. Same deal, but for books, wrote Pierre Bayard. And if the book you once read doesn't exist anymore, and the "you" that read the book doesn't exist anymore, how can you have read any books at all? All the libraries and bookstores in the world are full of books that no one has, or ever can, truly have read. So don't sweat it that you just skimmed those last couple chapters of Ulysse ...more
Mar 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
I don't know how to review this book since the idea was so promising and the chapters' titles are so promising too, but the execution is just like... meh....
I expected lots - I expected witty comentaries on books, but unfortunately the author is not as half as funny and witty as he thinks he is.

Tbf I skimmed the second half of this book, because i just couldn't make myself to read it properly..
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sharon by: Daniel
Shelves: library
This book is an extremely clever take on the relationship between literature and literary criticism. It's hilarious as satire, while also being a genuinely well-constructed argument. I wish I'd had it at the peak of my non-reading days, which was either when I was the literature specialist on my high school quiz bowl team or when I still thought I would be able to earn my double major in English Literature. Regardless, I'm delighted to have it now.

Bayard's premise is that people feel embarrassed
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
In his parodic essay, Bayard encourages geniune reflection about why we read, what we get from reading, and what we're really talking about when we talk about books.  In particular, he states that since we all bring our own history and worldviews to the book, and since almost nobody, however convinced he may be to the contrary, permanently recalls every last detail of the book, the book that you read and the book that I read aren't really the same book.  

What then are we discussing?  Ourselves. 
Dec 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If one were to follow the the logic of this book to its inevitable conclusion, one would have to admit that none of us have "read" any books at all. We have all come into contact with a variety of books, it's true, but they are all "unread" books of some sort. Either they belong to the vast sea of works that we have never even heard of, they are works we've heard of but never actually opened, books we have only skimmed, or books that we have read that have been forgotten to the point where when ...more
Jessica Manuel
This title caught my eye almost a year ago and I summarized a few of the author's points in a short article ( Every teacher and professor finds themselves in the position of talking about books we haven't read, not necessarily from a place of authority, but at least to have a conversation with an enthusiastic student about a book they love. Even though the provocative title suggests this book is about gaming the reading system, the author's insights are just as much abo ...more
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely not a how-to; more a story-telling-philosophy combo. The pleasure of the book comes from the author's long entertaining riffs on types of "non-readers," both real people (Oscar Wilde, Paul Valéry, et al.) and fictional characters (Holly Martins in "The Third Man," et al.). To my mind, Bayard is not always persuasive, but his point of view is thought-provoking; and his ironic tone, enjoyable.
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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

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