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How to talk about books you haven't read

by Bayard, Pierre, 1954-

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Table of Contents:
  • Preface
  • Ways of not reading. Books you don't know (in which the reader will see, as demonstrated by a character of Musil's, that reading any particular book is a waste of time compared to keeping our perspective about books overall)
  • Books you have skimmed (in which we see, along with Valéry, that it is enough to have skimmed a book to be able to write an article about it, and that with certain books it might even be inappropriate to do otherwise)
  • Books you have heard of (in which Umberto Eco shows that it is wholly unnecessary to have held a book in your hand to be able to speak about it in detail, as long as you listen to and read what others say about it)
  • Books you have forgotten (in which, along with Montaigne, we raise the question of whether a book you have read and completely forgotten, and which you have even forgotten you have read, is still a book you have read)
  • Literary confrontations. Encounters in society (in which Graham Greene describes a nightmarish situation where the hero finds himself facing an auditorium full of admirers impatiently waiting for him to speak about books that he hasn't read)
  • Encounters with professors (in which we confirm, along with the Tiv tribe of western Africa, that it is wholly unnecessary to have opened a book in order to deliver an enlightened opinion on it, even if you displease the specialists in the process)
  • Encounters with the writer (in which Pierre Siniac demonstrates that it may be important to watch what you say in the presence of a writer, especially when he himself hasn't read the book whose author he is)
  • Encounters with someone you love (in which we see, along with Bill Murray and his groundhog, that the ideal way to seduce someone by speaking about books he or she loves without having read them yourself would be to bring time to a halt)
  • Ways of behaving. Not being ashamed (in which it is confirmed, with regard to the novels of David Lodge, that the first condition for speaking about a book you haven't read is not to be ashamed)
  • Imposing your ideas (in which Balzac proves that one key to imposing your point of view on a book is to remember that the book is not a fixed object, and that even tying it up with string will not be sufficient to stop its motion)
  • Inventing books (in which, reading Sōseki, we follow the advice of a cat and an artist in gold-rimmed spectacles, who each, in different fields of activity, proclaim the necessity of invention)
  • Speaking about yourself (in which we conclude, along with Oscar Wilde, that the appropriate time span for reading a book is ten minutes, after which you risk forgetting that the encounter is primarily a pretext for writing your autobiography)
  • Epilogue.
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