In my experience ... it's totally possible to carry on an engaging conversation about a book you haven't read - including, and perhaps especially, with someone else who hasn't read it either. Moreover, it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven't read it in its entirety - or even opened it.As tides of bookguilt swamp me (for all the books I want to read but haven't yet got round to, for all the books looking imploringly at me from my bookshelves, for all the "greats" I should have read but haven't picked up yet, for all the "greats" I've tried to read and couldn't finish, for all the books thrust at me by local writers ... and even in advance for the most hotly tipped novels of 2008 which I know in advance I will probably not manage to read), French academic Pierre Bayard offers a solution.
In this piece published today in the Guardian he says that having realised that as a literature lecturer there was no way that he (or his students) could avoid commenting on books he hadn't even opened, he began what he calls:
... a meditation on a forbidden subject ...resulting in his guide to literary bluffology How to talk About Books You Haven't Read. And Monsieur Bayard, with his non-literary foot planted firmly in the murky waters of psycho-analysis, is deadly serious!
Perhaps the best comment on the book came from Sarah Vine's review in the Times:
Obviously I haven’t read Mr Baynard’s book; but it is in the spirit of his oeuvre that I shall proceed to write about it anyway.*I will point out that on this blog I am scrupulously honest about what I have devoured and digested, what remains unread, what I dumped halfway, what I snacked on, what I dropped in disgust after a page or two, what I just read the blurb of, or the reviews for ...
... well, most of the time, anyway!
*(Ms Vine's disdain for the book seems so complete that she doesn't even spell the author's name right throughout the piece!)