Monday, January 30, 2012

Last Monday Book: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

Post by Jenny

A new year of writer’s conferences has begun, and I hope many of you are planning to attend at least one. They provide great opportunities to meet other writers, attend interesting sessions, and socialize with like-minded people. Most writers also like to read and talk about books, which opens up the possibility that any of us might be faced with this scenario:

(Hotel atrium, mood lighting, tall round tables to encourage gathering in small groups. Wine.) Writer joins on-going conversation, only to discover that it is about The Greatest Book Ever. Writer has always meant to read TGBE but has not, mainly because Writer secretly thinks that TGBE actually sounds boring/pretentious/confusing/overrated. Now Writer is faced with a choice: come clean about (still!) not having read TGBE and risk facing a number of astounded and/or disapproving looks; bluff, based on what Writer remembers from that NPR review eight months ago; or spill wine on own shoes and hurry off to the restroom.

If you’ve never been in this situation, congratulations! Either you read everything, or you avoid any and all potential book-related conversations. I have been in that situation (as evidenced by my shoes) and so I was intrigued when I came across this month’s Last Monday Book: How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, by Pierre Bayard.

Bayard is a professor of French Literature at the University of Paris, and the book was a big hit in France. Using such disparate examples as Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, an anthropologist’s experiences with the Tiv people of West Africa, and the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, Bayard encourages readers to have a more malleable relationship with books they have either not read, merely skimmed, or have read and forgotten. After all, the sea of written works is vast and unknowable in its entirety, and therefore “the obligation to talk about unread books should not be experienced as…a source of anxiety or remorse. To the person who knows how to experience it as positive…talking about unread books invites us into a realm of authentic creativity.”

That’s comforting for all of us who have teetering to-be-read stacks, and this is a quirky, original book that is by turns literate and irreverent. But I’m not sure I agree with all the author’s points. I appreciate the permission to not feel self-conscious about books I haven’t read, but I think I’d rather talk about the ones I have read with other people who have done the same.

Are you comfortable talking about books you haven’t read?


Dianne K. Salerni said...

I generally just say ..."Haven't gotten to that one yet." And if I'm feeling really honest and have no interest in the book, I might actually come out and say, "That's not a genre I enjoy" or "The premise didn't win me over. I have other things I want to read."

Unless, of course, the author is physically present, and then I smile and say, "It's on my TBR pile!"

Patricia Stoltey said...

I do the same thing Dianne does.

Speaking of teetering stacks of books I haven't read I've taken to loading my Kindle to help reduce clutter. I have another 30 books there I haven't read.

Nice description of the atrium during the cocktail hour. I'm looking forward to it.

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