Talking About Books You Haven’t Read

Pierre Bayard in The Guardian:

It is unsurprising that so few texts extol the virtues of talking about books without having read them. To address this subject demands courage, because doing so clashes inevitably with a series of internalised constraints. Three of these, at least, are crucial.

The first might be called the obligation to read. We still live in a society where reading, on the decline though it may be, remains the object of a kind of worship. This worship applies particularly to a number of canonical texts – the list varies according to the circles you move in – which it is practically forbidden not to have read if you want to be taken seriously.

The second constraint, similar to the first but nonetheless distinct, might be called the obligation to read thoroughly. If it’s frowned upon not to read, it’s almost as bad to read quickly or to skim, and especially to say so. For example, it’s virtually unthinkable for literary intellectuals to acknowledge that they have flipped through Proust’s work without having read it in its entirety – though this is certainly the case for most of them.

The third constraint concerns the way we discuss books.

[H/t: Maeve Adams]