How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
Not reading classic works of literature is a matter of special concern for the French, as it has a very specific meaning: Whether or not you’ve read all of Proust. Pierre Bayard, a professor of French literature who has only skimmed Proust, takes this anxiety (he is also a psychoanalyst) and seeks to assuage it by asserting that not reading is not only inevitable, but a form of creative activity in its own right. By turns tongue-in-cheek, provocative, liberating, and depressing, the thesis of Bayard’s little book (which I did read all of, by the way) finally dissolves in light of how much reading one has to do to qualify as truly unread. That so little remains with us, “no more than a few fragments afloat, like so many islands on an ocean of oblivion,” was, consciously, one of the reasons I had for starting this site.