Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.

Written by: on November 16, 2019

“It seems hard to believe that a book called “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” would hit the best-seller lists in France, where books are still regarded as sacred objects and the writer occupies a social position somewhere between the priest and the rock star. The ostensible anti-intellectualism of the title seems more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic, an impression reinforced by the epigram from Oscar Wilde: “I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so.”[1]

(“in which we see, along with Valéry, that it is enough to have skimmed a book to be able to write an article about it, and that with certain books it might even be inappropriate to do otherwise”)

Bayard, professor of literature at the University of Paris France and psychoanalyst, gives us a particular essay under the title How to talk about books you haven’t read. The title, certainly, very suggestive turns out to be only an incentive towards the reading of a reflection about the socio-cultural perception of reading and of all the premises and taboos that are beset us at the time of referring to this or that book. It is precisely there where Bayard: in the relationship, we establish as individuals in front of books and how we socially accept such relationships.

The author divides tiny essays into three groups that converge linearly in a great essay that is the work in question: 

1-“Ways to not read,” 

In the first group, we find a typology of what he calls “non-reading”, where he gradually classifies the level of knowledge that a person has regarding a particular work; Do we find ” “the books that are not known,” “the books that have been glimpsed,” “the books that have been heard of,” and “the books that have been forgotten.”

2-” Speech situations.” 

 In the second group, situations are presented in which we can be forced to talk about books that we have not read or, instead, of which we had done a non-reading: “in the mundane life”, “in front of a teacher”, “before the writer” and “With the loved one.”

3-“Behaviors that should be adopted.” 

 Finally, in the third group, it includes, as an advice, the attitude that we must adopt in the face of the inevitable situation of having to refer to an unread text: ” “not being ashamed,” “imposing our ideas,” “invent books ” and    “talk about oneself.”[2]

The book is based on the analysis of situations extracted from works by authors such as Valery, Eco, Missile, and Montaigne, among others, to accredit their reflections on reading and, by exclusion, non-reading. 

It is interesting Bayard’sBayard’s approach to the attitudes taken by the characters, and at the moment, the authors, when they refer to books that have not been read, demonstrating that it is not necessary to have made a good reading a book to refer properly to the same. 

It is undeniable that the examples he takes correspond to fictional (literary) situations, but they do not turn out to be far from the attitudes we have ever had before other people when it comes to talking about the cultural heritage that we dominate or should dominate almost par excellence, for “cultural requirement.” 

In the prologue, the author already knows that the determination to refer to non-reading as something positive for sure will bring harsh criticism, especially from the most intellectual sectors, however, his company still stands towards an assessment of the faculties that we have as individuals to create through language, without even sometimes knowing what our creation should have as an object, in this case, books.

As for the nature of the book, I do not think it is possible to classify it in any particular discipline, since it turns out to be a hybrid that moves between Literature, Psychology, Psychologist, Sociologist and Philosopher for the benefit of the multiple perspectives with which refers to the situations analyzed; with what he intends as he mentions to theorize about reading and non-reading, highlighting the individual and social benefit that a person can derive from the latter.

“One might even argue that the greater your abilities in this area, the less will it be necessary to read any book in particular”.

How to talk about books that have not been read is an easy to understand text thanks to the treatment given by the author, although not simple in content, since categories are raised (such as “book-screen” or “interior library”) and criticisms that call into question aspects that at first glance seem very natural to us, for example, what we call “real reading”: can a book be “really” read?

This is how Bayard’s book subtly develops in his attempt to elaborate a theory of reading, an attempt that leads to a pedagogical purpose mentioned in the final pages of his work, for the purpose of how beneficial the practice of non- reading and creation from it, despite the socio-cultural restrictions that condemn it: “All education should tend to help those who receive it to acquire sufficient freedom in relation to books so that they themselves can become in writers or artists “”(Bayard, 2008: 194).

In conclusion, it is necessary to make clear that the recognition of the author and his work for the fact of exercising so openly the relaxation about aspects that are as daily for us like reading, and that, many times, we lose their meaning of the same. Likewise, the text allows our conscious awareness about the pedagogical work in the increasingly diverse world in which we are inserted as pastors, teachers, and, first of all, as people.

Bayard, Pierre (2010-08-09T23:58:59). How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/books/review/McInerney-t.html

[2] Bayard 149,142

About the Author

Joe Castillo

5 responses to “Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.”

  1. Shawn Cramer says:

    I wonder if there is a danger in this short-cut approach when “reading” individuals and “cultures.” I’ve seen personality tests used in attempts to bypass the challenging work of getting to know someone. In the same way, I’ve seen people supplement one book, or worse, one Netflix show, for the hard work of learning another culture.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    Thank you for the synopsis of this text. I agree that it is very difficult to “really” read a book. Different seasons in life allow for specific perspectives and intake to be absorbed or not. I think that’s what makes scripture so dynamic. But it has to be read for the dynamic nature of it to be revealed.

    In what ways do you see the suggestions offered by Bayard impacting your research, project, or community engagements?

  3. Jer Swigart says:

    Hey Joe.

    I wonder what value, if any, you think that this book will bring to your research? I don’t know about you, but even as I’m buidling my initial research bibliography, I’m finding myself overwhelmed with the sheer scope of literature that could be internalized. As I’m developing it, I’m establishing a grid to try to discover the core, primary sources and then the lesser sources that will be good to know about and speak of, but likely not read.

  4. Joe Castillo says:

    Nothing only to help you pretend that you read a book 🙂 I guess

  5. Greg Reich says:

    Good summary. Part of the insight I gained as I read Bayard was that not all books deserve the same level of commitment or style of reading. When we talk about a particular book we never discuss it without bringing everything else we may have read on that topic into the conversation. Since this is the case it appears Bayard thinks a person’s time is better spend in some cases focusing on the genre as a whole instead of an individual book.

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