Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Gentle Art of Literary Bluffology

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!)


Anonymous said...

Another person who obviously hasn't read the source material but can bullshit about it is the director of advertising from MidValley Mall - see today's The Star article on the Mall winning a prize for the best decorated mall: "Our Christmas theme...was inspired by the famous book by William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream...'" (page M18)

Thank god at least he/she for once wasn't named Jesslyn or Jazlyn or some Ah Lian name...

Will - The Novelist?

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Hey, there's nothing wrong with being named Jesslyn. Friend of mine who is pretty smart is named that.

Well, 'book' might not be accurate, but it's not wrong either. I've heard some people call Shakespeare flat out 'novel', and these were librarians. I'm not going to name which library it was.

Unfortunately Anonymous Today

bibliobibuli said...

lay off the jesslyns, i say!

i am a sharon and in the UK that is supposed to be the naffest name for girls with connotations of suburban dimwitedness and lack of class. even tesco's changed the name of sharon fruit!

billy the bard might have written a novelisation of his play. maybe the rest of us just never found it.

Anonymous said...

Bill's novelisation has been found! By MidValley! :-)

Anonymous said...

The Jesslyns are fine, maybe a little on the "Ah Lian" side, but not really. If you were a true "Ah Lian" you'd call yourself "Shakespeare." And of course you'd pronounce it "Sar-si-pear."

And Sharon is a Biblical name.

OTOH though the Director is probably making in a month what most writer make in six or a year :)