they say i say how to talk about books you haven t read n.
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THEY SAY I SAY & HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ. LAURA DUARTE. THE ARGUMENT. Pierre Bayard’s non-fiction book How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read presents the following argument: If you wish to have collective knowledge on books, then you shouldn’t read them.

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the argument
  • Pierre Bayard’s non-fiction book How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read presents the following argument:
  • If you wish to have collective knowledge on books, then you shouldn’t read them.
  • Bayard extrapolates on this argument in his first two chapters, which happen to be subsections one and two of the project.
subsection 1 books you don t know
Subsection 1: Books You Don’t Know
  • Pierre Bayard begins his text with the following claim: “reading is the first and foremost non-reading.” The author argues that as a reader picks up a book, he/she is involuntarily “not picking up and reading all the other books in the universe” (p.6) To support this argument, Bayard mentions Musil’s novel “The Man Without Qualities” where a General meets a librarian who had never read a book in his life. Surprised, this officer wonders how this librarian can claim to “know every single book” (p.7) without ever reading any of them. The librarian believes that if he reads books, he will lose perspective. For this reason he limits himself to reading catalogs. Bayard continues by arguing that books are made of other books and for this reason they are not worth reading. He uses Ulysses as an example and suggests that James Joyce’s novel is simply a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. He then introduces the term “collective library,” which he refers to as “a set of books on which our culture depends on at the moment.” Bayard continues by observing a distinct difference between the parts of a book, first stating that the interior of a book is more important than its exterior and later dividing the book into content and location. The interior of the book would be it’s content and the exterior it’s location. With this, Bayard asserts that the way a book relates to the “books alongside it” (p.11) is more important than what the book is about.
subsection 2 books you have skimmed
Subsection 2: Books You Have Skimmed
  • In this chapter, Bayard focuses on the art of skimming books, stating that it’s “the most efficient way to absorb books, respecting their inherent depth and richness without getting lost in the details.” (p.15) To prove this argument, Bayard mentions Valéry, a critic who warns others of the risks of reading, and Proust, who’s work doesn’t need to be read in order to be aware of it. The author states that Proust’s text can be open at any page and still be understood. Bayard refers to Valéry to support his vision on skimming. This french critic believed that “with cultural literacy comes the inherent threat of vanishing in other peoples books.” In other words, as we read books we are not only getting lost in their details, we are also losing originality. Just as Bayard mentioned the distinct parts of a book in the last chapter, he also explains the two different kids of skimming: linear and circuitous. While linear skimming follows the order of the book, circuitous skimming jumps back and forth throughout the text. The author proceeds to pose the following question: “who, we may wonder is the better reader- the person who reads a work in depth without being able to situate it, or the person who enters the book in no depth but circulates through them all?” (p 30) Bayard concludes by indirectly answering this question by referring to both Musil and Valéry. According to Bayard, they encourage us to think of books as a whole rather than individual texts. If we read books thoroughly, Bayard argues, we will easily lose sight of the totality of books.
subsection 3 books you have heard of
Subsection 3: Books You Have Heard Of
  • In the third chapter of his book, Bayard states that it is “ultimately unnecessary” to read. Instead of reading a book, he argues, we can read what others have wrote about it.
  • The author uses Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose to prove his argument. In Eco’s novel, Baskerville knows what a book is about without ever reading it: “gradually, this second book took shape in my mind as it ad to be. I could tell you almost all of it, without reading the pages that were meant to poison me.” p 39
  • Bayard believes “every book is governed by a certain logic.” Thanks to this, we’re able to figure out what a book’s about without reading it. The author also mentions a second logic: “all works by the same author present more or less perceptible similarities of structure” (p.40)
  • Bayard uses Eco’s novel to prove that “reading a book can disrupt the collective library of man” and that “a single book has the capacity to displace every other one” (p. 42)
section 4 books you have forgotten
Section 4: Books You Have Forgotten
  • In the fourth chapter, Bayard describes reading as “an inevitable process of forgetting” (p.45) He uses Montaigne, a man who complains about memory trouble as an example. Montainge is unable to recall if he has read a book and fixes this problem by writing notations in the end of each volume he has read. However, the character starts finding contradiction between what he once wrote and what he thinks now: “Having forgotten what he said about these authors and even that he said anything at all, Montaigne has become other to himself.” (p53)
  • Reading soon becomes a burden for Montaigne. He starts relating it “not only to defective memory, but also [...] to the anguish of madness.” (p 55)
  • According to Bayard, Montaigne shows the relationship we all have with books: “we do not retain in memory complete books identical to the books remembered by everyone else, but rather fragments remembered from partial readings frequently fused together and further recast by our private fantasies.” p 56
  • Books stop being direct links to knowledge, and start being related to the loss of memory and identity: “ To read is not only to inform ourselves, but also, and perhaps above all, to forget and thus to cnfront our capacity for oblivion.” p 56
section 4 encounters in society
Section 4: Encounters in Society
  • The second part of the book is about literary confrontations.
  • when speaker is forced to speak about books he hasn’t read
  • In this chapter, Bayard uses Rollo Martins, protagonist in The Third Man to support his argument. In the novel, Martins is forced to deliver a literary lecture about books he supposedly wrote but hasn’t even read.
  • Martin’s self assurance despite the difficult questions, give him a sense of character and authority, crucial aspects when talking about books you haven’t read.
  • Bayard argues that as long as a person shows self assurance, the content of what he is talking about is unimportant.
  • The author presents a new term: the dialogue of the deaf. When two people talk about a book they haven't read, they are talking about two different books. This is called the dialogue of the deaf. This is not an issue until the two people’s inner libraries overlap each other.
section 5 encounters with the writer
Section 5- Encounters With the Writer
  • The professional context in which you find yourself affects whether or not you find yourself in this situation
  • Are you a
  • This chapter’s example: Pierre Siniac (characters Gastinel, Dochin and Celine)
  • After summarizing the complicated plot of Ferdinaud Celiné, Bayard annotates that “the problem facing Gastinel is that he has to find phrases simultaneously beffiting the book Dochin has read.” p. 96




-All of the above

Bayard shows a clear relationship between Siniac’s thriller and this chapter’s topic: Encounters with the writer.
  • He further emphasizes that “the chances of wounding an author by speaking about his book are all the greater when we love it.” He later states that “after we write text and are separated from it, we may be as far from it was others are.”
  • What Bayard states sounds perfectly logical. When I write essays or poems or short stories, I have a hard time reading them without an editor’s perspective. Others however, can them as works of writing and not feel attached to them. It is hard for an author to view his text as others see it. If a person really likes a novel, it is most likely that he/she has punctual reasons to why that is. Since, the author can’t perceive what the reader can, he/she may feel pressured, or how Bayard describes, “wounded.”
section 6 encounters with someone you love
Section 6- Encounters With Someone You Love
  • Basically... “The ideal way to seduce someone is by speaking about books he or she loves without having read them yourself.”
  • Bayard talks about the influence books have in our love life: “Fictional characters exert a great deal of influence over our choices in love by representing inaccessible ideals to which we try to make others conform, usually without success.”Although this may be the case sometimes, I believe there are other moments when the ideals represented in fictional characters are not inaccessible. Instead, they influence our “type.” A clear example of this is the famous “prince charming” which is present in most fairy tales and which many women wish and some find.
This chapter’s example: Rami’s film Groundhog Day
  • Phil is bound to repeat the same day over and over again. In order to make a women fall in love with him, he learns something new about her every day. One of the things he learns has to do with the women’s reading interests. He creates the allusion that his inner library and hers are the same. Bayard has stated that if you are able to talk about books the person you love likes, your relationship will be successful. Nevertheless, in this example, the only moment when Phil manages the women to fall in love with him is when he starts doing good deeds for other people.
section 7 not being ashamed
Section 7- Not Being Ashamed
  • In this chapter, Bayard states that “talking about books has little to do with reading.” Outside presences however, greatly affect how “our reading unfolds.”
  • To support his argument, Bayard uses David Lodge’s novels Small World and Changing Places as examples. In the first novel mentioned, the protagonist, RD, becomes close friends with a computer named ELIZA. Surprisingly, she is capable of keeping conversations with other people. For this reason, RD trusts her and tells her about personal matters he would never tell other human beings. Amongst these is his hate towards his coworker. Once RD confesses he never read his coworker’s novel, he realizes that ELIZA begins to express actual opinions rather than objective remarks. This worries him greatly as he starts to suspect that a human is controlling ELIZA.
  • According to Bayard, this plot demonstrates the shame people feel when accepting their ignorance. There is a tendency to maintain the books you haven’t read in secrecy. According to the author, this is attributed to a defense mechanism to hide the gaps in learning. We tend to guard our lack of cultural knowledge because we’re ashamed of accepting that we don’t know certain facts or that we haven’t read certain books. Although I agree with this tendency (I’m part of it), there are people who don’t seem to feel embarrassed of not knowing, and instead, embrace this condition. “La Maga,” a main character in Cortazar’s novel Rayuela falls into this category. Although she is many times judged for her lack of knowledge, she accepts her ignorance and insists on learning as much as she can.
  • In Lodge’s next novel, the shame talked about previously is further emphasized. Characters in the book play a game called Humiliation, where people’s ignorance is exposed. The winner of the game ends up being the most humiliated, thus the name of the game. In Changing Places as well as in Small World, we see people’s concerns of exposing their lack of knowledge.
  • Bayards re-states that “it is not necessary to read a book to talk about it.” I, for example confess that I haven’t read Moby Dick. However, I can talk about it because I’ve heard what others who have read the book have to say about it. However, if no one had ever read this novel, it would be impossible to talk about it. Therefore, I would change Bayard’s argument and argue that it is possible to talk about a book you haven’t read as long as someone else has.
section 8 imposing your ideas
Section 8: Imposing Your Ideas
  • In section 8 it is stated that texts are mobile objects which are constantly changing. Points of view for example, have the ability to change texts. Popularity and authority do so as well.
  • Bayard uses the characters Lucien and Loustau to support his argument. Lucien, a newcomer to the “publishing world” has a hard time acknowledging that it is socially accepted to criticize a book one hasn’t read. Journalist Lousteau tries to show him that there are other factors besides the book itself which permit people to talk about a text. One of these factors is the author ‘s social appearance and authority: “a favorable review contributes to power, while inversely, power guarantees favorable reviews.” In this this situation, unlike the others mentioned in the past section, reading is considered humiliating.
  • Although I don’t agree with how reading is portrayed in this chapter, I value Bayard’s conclusions. He mentions that the story between Lucien and Lusteau shows the importance of a novel’s context. “The book does no change materially, but it undergoes modifications to its situation in the collective library.” I do believe one’s opinion toward a book is affected by how the author is viewed but I also think the book itself greatly affects ones opinion towards it.