From the bad side of Parisian literary criticism comes this disarming vindication of the rights of readers to not read. As much a confession as an anti-academia manifesto, this book is as compulsively readable as it is unreadable. Pierre Bayard is the first person to claim that he does not consider himself well-read, although he gives no indication that this has affected his ability to teach French literature at the University of Paris VIII. A survey of any kind of literature by definition implies breadth, and this is the primary virtue that Bayard is interested in promoting. Yes, even at the expense of depth--especially at the expense of depth! Bayard prefers to skip around (as he prefers to read) from book to book to book, borrowing examples from their texts, reception, criticism, adaptations, translations, typefaces, author bios, dust jackets...A book is a book is a book, and everything that's a part of the book is the book, and when you talk about the book that is also the book whether you have read it or anybody has read it or not. One lengthy example comes from Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" (a book that he has skimmed, as indicated by his notation [SB], along with his opinion [++, extremely positive]). "The Name of the Rose" features a secretive monastic order (is there any other kind of monastic order?) tasked with keeping under lock and key and threat of death a book that seems to impose a lethal curse on anybody who so much as touches one of its pages. The first monk says all this to the second monk and goes on to summarize, in detail, the contents of the forbidden book. So at this point we have Bayard summarizing a book he has not read that was written by Umberto Eco, who is writing in the voice of the first monk, who has never read the book he is describing to the second monk, who is recording what the first monk told him about the book nobody has ever read. (Now if I told you I haven't actually read "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" we'd be in some real trouble.) Another notable example is the story of a group of professors on a train who try to outdo each other by naming the most outstanding work in their field they have never read. The contest ends when a quiet passenger speaks up: "I'm a professor of English Literature at Oxford and I've never read a word of D.H. Lawrence!" "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" pairs well with "I Don't Know" by Leah Cohen. I'd go so far as to say if you read both of them back to back you may find that you don't need to read or know anything ever again.
A lighthearted and provocative French best-seller argues that it is more important to understand a book's relevance than to be familiar with its details, drawing on examples from key modern works while offering specific advice on how to speak knowledgeably in a variety of social occasions.