the guardian Sat 17 January 2009
While it sounds like the kind of dummies' guide you might pick up at the airport, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is less an etiquette guide on how to blag in literary circles (although it does deal with this) than a witty meditation on what it means not to have read a book. Bayard suggests we might consider the practice of "not reading" as covering a variety of activities, including skimming, "unreading" (forgetting) and "screen reading" (or fusing remembered fragments of different books together according to our own private fantasies). His argument, loosely speaking, is that, given it is impossible to read everything, we should not feel ashamed about it; but also that the more we read, the more reference points we have, and therefore the better we become at talking about books we haven't read. This message is delivered in a slick and entertaining package which draws on a wide range of examples of not-reading, from literary theory and the campus novel to scenes in The Third Man. Definitely worth a read.