How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read: Pierre Bayard & Umberto Eco with Paul Holdengräber

November 17, 2007

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"I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so." Oscar Wilde

How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read

  • Ways of Not Reading: Books You Don't Know; Books You Have Skimmed; Books You Have Heard of.  
  • Literary Confrontations: Encounters with Professors; Enco  
  • Ways of Behaving: Not Being Ashamed; Inventing Books.

?from the Table of Contents

Umberto Eco insists that he read Pierre Bayard's book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read or at least skimmed it. In the July 26th edition of L’Espresso Eco writes, ?The most intriguing part of this pamphlet, less paradoxical than may first appear, is that we forget a high percentage of the books we actually read, in fact, we conjure a virtual image of sorts, not so much of what the book said, but of what it made us think about.?

Bayard's seemingly paradoxical book makes the case for literary laziness. In How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, Bayard argues that the key to appreciating the classics is through a quick skim, not deep immersion; cover to cover isn't merely impractical, it's downright pass?.

Quoting Eco himself he is the subject of a chapter in Bayard's treatise entitled "Books you have heard of in which Umberto Eco shows 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"?Bayard reminds us all that there is no shame in asserting your pseudo-literacy. He describes the varieties of non-reading from books that you've never heard of to books that you've read and forgotten and offers advice on how to turn a sticky social situation into an occasion for creative brilliance. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is in the end a love letter to books, offering a whole new perspective on how we read and absorb books, the art of being well read without reading well.

?A high-low treatise that will remind some readers of Wayne Koestenbaum (a writer I talk about even though I've never read him . . . this slim volume manages to deceive the reader in 185 pages. You think you're going to be told how to act at a cocktail party when someone opines about a book you don?t know?and you are; but at the same time you're going to learn enough about the book to discuss it . . . It's a romp, in other words but a romp of the most decidedly literary variety. At least I think it is. Because of course, I haven't read it." Sara Nelson, "Faking It," Publishers Weekly

This event is co-sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy


About Pierre Bayard

Pierre Bayard is a professor of French literature at the University of Paris VIII and a psychoanalyst. He is the author of Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? and many other books.






About Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco teaches Semiotics and is the President of the Scuola superiore di Studi Umanistici at the University of Bologna. In 1980 Eco debuted as a novelist with The Name of the Rose for which he received the Strega Award. He is the author of the History of Beauty. His new books are On Ugliness and Turning Back The Clock, Hot Wars and Media Populism.




About Paul Holdengräber

Paul Holdengräber is the Director of Public Programs now known as "LIVE from the NYPL" for The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library.