Friday, 1 March 2013

How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read

Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus?

I first came across this book whilst browsing in the 027 and 028 sections of the library. I chuckled at the rather provocative title, but didn't pick it up to investigate further. However, just a short while after, I was reading Cyburbia where this book was mentioned, so on a subsequent trip to the library I decided to check it out. How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read was a bestseller in France when it came out in 2007. The author Pierre Bayard is a professor of literature and says, as such, he often talks about books he hasn't read! Despite the provocative title and Monsieur Bayard's tongue-in-cheek style, this book was fascinating  and dealt with really quite profound themes. In chapters such as: 
  • Books You Have Forgotten.
  • Encounters With The Writer.
  • Not Being Ashamed.
  • Imposing Your Ideas.
The author discusses: how we interact with texts, the importance of our own opinions and interpretations, whether a book you have read but subsequently forgotten, is really still a book you have read and other facets of our relationship towards literature which warrant contemplation. I loved his final comments of chapter 9, Not Being Ashamed,
"To speak without shame about books we haven't read, we would thus do well to free ourselves of the oppressive image of cultural literacy without gaps, as transmitted and imposed by family and school, for we can strive toward this image for a lifetime without ever managing to coincide with it. 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."
Renaissance man could have read, and read closely, the literary canon of his day, but the modern reader would struggle to find the time to read everything available to us now. Bearing this in mind, I enjoyed Bayard's comment on not being ashamed as a rally call to read what you want rather than reading for cultivation.

The Author's Name Begins With N.

Bayard's book also inspired me to play with my approach to books a little bit. In Chapter 11, Inventing Books, Soseki's novel, Kusamakura is described. In this story, a painter retreats to a quiet hotel on a mountainside to paint. One day his landlady's daughter enters his room and finds him reading a book. She asks the painter what he is reading and he says that he doesn't know. The girl is surprised, so the painter describes his approach to reading, "I open the book at random as though it were a game of chance, and I read the page that ends up in front of me, and that's what is interesting."

Today, at the library, I decided to give this method of reading a try. I went to the L-Q section of the fiction stacks and hovered around the N section. I closed my eyes, reached down to one of the lower shelves and selected a book. I opened the book at random and discovered that this 'game' was not so simple after all. The first book I chose had the author's name at the top of the right hand page so I returned the book and decided to try again starting from the top shelf. This time when I opened the book (it fell open at page 149) there was no indication of the author's name, so I proceeded to read the right hand side page. I have a feeling that the book I read was not a comedy, but it really did make me giggle. Page 149 opens in the middle of a dramatic scene and as I had not read the preceding pages the drama seemed really over-the-top and consequently very amusing. From reading just one page I think the main character's name is Zac. Zac has committed a crime/ fallen foul of the law as he refers to community service, although he seems to be the hero/good guy of the story. I don't know who Mobz or Uncle Fidelis are and I don't know why Zac is at the airport or where he is going.

Page 149 of book X by author N-.
I am not sure whether I am going to extend this 'game' in some way (return to the library to find the book and   read reviews about it once I know the title and author, or, maybe, read the whole book) or just enjoy inventing the story for myself.

Have you approached books in any unorthodox ways? If so, why and did you learn anything from these experiments?

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