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Don’t Read All About It

2 minute read

So you haven’t read all the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses? Actually, you haven’t read any of it, have you? No big deal, says Pierre Bayard, author of French bestseller How Do You Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?; neither has he. And that doesn’t stop him from sharing his “very positive” opinion about it. Bayard, a psychoanalyst and University of Paris literature professor, wants to reassure students and bibliophobes that just knowing about a book as opposed to having read it is no reason for shame. “Even the most cultivated among us have enormous gaps in their knowledge,” Bayard says. “Many great intellectuals — Paul Valéry, [Michel de] Montaigne, Oscar Wilde — often spoke about books they hadn’t read, and didn’t feel guilty about it.”

For the rest of us, perhaps it’s enough to drop the odd smart reference to June 16, 1904 (that’s Bloomsday for Joyce fans, or, dear nonreaders, the day Ulysses takes place), the evocative aroma of madeleines (nostalgia muffins to novelist Marcel Proust), or George Eliot (remember, she was a woman). Bayard argues that the real secret to knowledge, cultivation and passionate reading lies in avoiding the traditional, linear approach to books. “Books aren’t so much made to be read, as they are to be lived with,” he says. Hey, doesn’t that remind you of something Franz Kafka once said?

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