Will there be six more weeks of winter?
Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read was an interesting read, and contrary to the title, I did, in fact, read his book and found a few of the tips rather helpful. I also have to say, I loved the chapter where he talked about the movie Groundhog Day in detail. Not just because it is one of the classic American comedies, but because he actually uses it to illustrate a point regarding our encounters with those we love and the books we haven’t read. The other part that was so refreshing was him introducing the concept of “non-reading” books and how to be okay it. Also in my preliminary research of the book…what I learned from our last book, I discovered 2,479 ratings and 565 reviews of the book on GoodReads.com. This told me that this book is somewhat provocative and attention-getting, most likely because of the title alone.
One of the first things to come to mind while reading this book was the fact that I have a habit of doing this already when it comes to popular movies, books or TV shows I have heard of but haven’t seen or read. What felt somewhat deceptive before now feels sanctioned by Bayard. Since I hate feeling left out or out of the know, I tended to avoid admitting that I was not aware of the particular form of media being discussed. I would not say that I had seen or read it, but I would engage in the discussion as if I had, and most of the time others were none the wiser. This seemed like a social exercise in some ways, but it was always interesting to me how I could add to the discussion even though my knowledge of the title being discussed was very limited. I think it is interesting how the author speaks about truth. He says, “Truth destined for others is less important than truthfulness to ourselves, something attainable only by those who free themselves from the obligation to seem cultivated, which tyrannizes us from within and prevents us from being ourselves.”
I love how he uses the movie Groundhog Day to illustrate the fact the only way we can truly have a complete overlap of our experiences of a particular book is to be Bill Murry in the movie, but even then we will only be connecting to the facts and not the nuances we each take away from that particular book. Bayard writes, “The fantasy of overlap can thus be staged only by way of recourse to the supernatural. As we have seen, most of the time our discussions with others about books are necessarily and unfortunately based on fragments reworked by our private fantasies, and hence on something quite different from the books written by writers, who in any case don’t generally recognize themselves in what their readers say about them.” This tells me that our connection with each person’s perception of the book becomes more important than the particular facts found in the text, which once again, frees me up to talk freely about my perception or understanding of books I haven’t read.
The author’s introduction of the concept of “non-reading”, and his addressing the stigma that goes with this is rather refreshing. He nails the issue on the head when he talks about the guilt and anxiety that arises in people with the concept of non-reading. This is what keeps most people from doing many things they are uncomfortable with. We tend to feel guilty about things we have defined as wrong, which is why Bayard goes through the process of redefining the broad range between reading and non-reading in order to help eliminate some of this guilt, which he states is one of his goals of the book. I personally appreciate this goal of his because, in my work as a therapist, I am often trying to help my clients get past their guilt and shame that often generates years of anxiety struggles. This is also why many people don’t attempt new things that are out of their comfort zone. It is good that the author doesn’t ignore this fact and addresses head on what many people are most likely feeling.
The part of the book that I was curious to read was how to talk about a book you haven’t read with the author of the book. This seemed like academic suicide to me, but after reading what he had to say I had to agree with his statement…“As may be seen, there is only one sensible piece of advice to give to those who find themselves having to talk to an author about one of his books without having read it: praise it without going into detail. An author does not expect a summary or a rational analysis of his book and would even prefer you not to attempt such a thing. He expects only that, while maintaining the greatest possible degree of ambiguity, you will tell him that you like what he wrote.” Everyone likes to hear something positive about themselves or what they have created, and they will rarely correct you in the process of complimenting them. It reminds me of social situations when you are at a loss for conversation topics with someone new or unfamiliar. I usually just start asking them all kinds of questions about themselves, because most people enjoy talking about themselves, especially if you at least act like you’re interested in what they have to say.
Overall, I appreciated the transparent, honest look at the topic the author made and the fact that he was bold enough to write a book of this nature and suggest that people reconsider their perspective of talking about read and non-read books. Although some of my insecurity lead me down this road already, I feel a little more affirmed in the practice moving forward. Oh and by the way…I hope there’s not six extra weeks of winter this year J
 Pierre Bayard. How to talk about books you haven’t read. (Bloomsbury Publishing, USA, 2007) Kindle Edition, Location 1364.
 Ibid., 1356.
 Ibid., 122.
 Ibid., 1671.
 Ibid., 1447.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid., 1344.
5 responses to “Will there be six more weeks of winter?”
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You, Jay, and I are all Groundhog Day enthusiasts. I ask and wonder if any of our cohort preachers think of their church and congregation as a Punxsutawney scenario? Unfortunately, in our world of struggle with rulers, powers, and forces of evil we do not get many “do-overs.”
Like you, I appreciated the stretching of my traditional academic paradigms and agree that it should be “ok” to be a non-reader at times.
I have to report that one of Bayard’s techniques worked for me. I did not read his chapter on how to talk to author’s about their books I haven’t read. Instead, I integrated a few of his themes in other chapters with my ideas and used it when talking socially about a book I haven’t read. And, it worked! Thanks for sharing that section in your post.
Great post! Not only because we share a love for the movie GROUNDHOG DAY, but also because you have a depth to your thoughts, like “I am often trying to help my clients get past their guilt and shame that often generates years of anxiety struggles. This is also why many people don’t attempt new things that are out of their comfort zone.”
Well said my Brother.
Jake! Look at all those footnotes! Amazing! How can I argue against such a well-research post that I definitely read all of.
I appreciate your perspective as a therapist and encouraging people to move beyond shame and fear, and see also how Bayard, as a psychoanalyst was also of the same mind.
I find it refreshing when people drop their masks and are real. Playing games and putting on fronts are real barriers to intimacy and meaningful relationship. This isn’t your style at all. Thank you for modelling that for all of us.
Great perspective! I really liked your statement “This tells me that our connection with each person’s perception of the book becomes more important than the particular facts found in the text, which once again, frees me up to talk freely about my perception or understanding of books I haven’t read.” When you really think about discussions and conversations regarding something we’ve read (let’s be honest this includes the Bible), it’s all influenced by each person’s paradigm and take-away. So honestly, it doesn’t really matter if the book is read in its entirety – a person will still talk about the book based on their perception. I wish I had read this book when I was young :). Hope you had a great week!!!