Friday, January 11, 2008

Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is an invaluable guide to subverting the reading classes, says Toby Lichtig

Sunday January 6, 2008
The Observer

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
by Pierre Bayard; translated by Jeffrey Mehlman
Granta £12, pp185

Pierre Bayard is a Paris-based professor of French literature. As such, he is a practised charlatan, a literary bullshitter, a professional 'non-reader'. 'Because I teach literature at university level,' he says, regretfully, 'there is, in fact, no way to avoid commenting on books that most of the time I haven't even opened.'

Bayard is infiltrating a 'forbidden subject', an area equivalent to 'finance and sex' in its secrecy. Despite society's 'worship' of reading, he avers, we are most of us heathens, even among the literary elite. And quite right, too: why waste time reading Joyce and Proust when you can talk about them - or skim the work of others? Taking it as given that no one actually reads for the pleasure of the process, Bayard proceeds to investigate the meaning of bibliographic cultural capital.