How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
by Pierre Bayard · read July 7, 2021
I enjoyed this book; it alternated between providing entertainment and food for thought about what it means to 'read' a book. I especially like the concept of an 'inner book', wherein our own representations shape how we interpret what we read. I also liked the exhortation to never tell an author what you thought about their work, and Wilde's suggestion of publishing lists of books that one shouldn't read.
Every writer who has conversed at any length with an attentive reader, or read an article of any length about himself, has had the uncanny experience of discovering the absence of any connection between what he meant to accomplish and what been grasped of it.
Constraints — obligation to read, to read thoroughly, and to read a book before discussing it
Our relation to books is a shadowy space haunted by the ghosts of memory, and the real value of books lies in their ability to conjure these spectres.
Books you don't know
There are just too many books to read
The location of a book (how it is situated with respect to other books) is important
collective library: "the larger set of books on which our culture depends at that moment"
The overall view of relationships books have to each other is more important ("relations among ideas are far more important than the ideas themselves")
Books you've skimmed
Like the location, the contents of the book might be best understood from a birds' eye perspective
Books you've heard of
We can encounter books just by hearing people discuss them
A book is not limited to itself, but from the moment of dissemination also encompasses the exchanges it inspires.
screen books: what the reader knows or believes to know about the book
(Not accurately representative of what the book actually is)
Books you've forgotten
Reading is inevitably forgetting; we discuss only approximations
But the fact that the implications of forgetting are not altogether negative does not solve all its associated problems, especially the psychological ones. Nor does it dispel the anguish intensified by the daily obligation of speaking to others, of not being able to fix anything in one's memory. (50)
We don't remember books — we just retain surviving fragments
Confrontations and behaviours
inner library: books around which a personality is constructed
inner books: representations through which we understand new books
Every writer who has conversed at any length with an attentive reader, or read an article of any length about himself, has had the uncanny experience of discovering the absence of any connection between what he meant to accomplish and what been grasped of it. (98)
Since we all have inner books, there's distance between our readings
the books we love offer a sketch of a whole universe that we secretly inhabit, and in which we desire the other person to place a role (102)
virtual library: the intersection of each participant's inner library
Communication about books dominated by images
We allow each other a degree of ambiguity about the extent to which we've read a book
We can think of the text as malleable: the position of the book is defined by other social and psychological forces (author's reputation, literary trends)
The book does not change materially, but it undergoes modification to its situation in the collective library.
Wilde — there should be a list of books not to read
Trying to critique a work might cause you to lose reflection on yourself
The paradox of reading is that the path toward ourselves passes through books, but that this must remain a passage. (178)
It is ourselves we should be listening to, not the 'actual' book.