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How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read


A French writer is worried about the future of books, or to be more precise, the future of readers.

Prof. PIERRE BAYARD (French Literature, University of Paris; Author, "How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read"): Young people read less and less. And we have to find the keys to make them come back to the books.

INSKEEP: …which is why Pierre Bayard wrote a book called "How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read." If you flip through this book, you'll find quotes from great writers about skimming books. You'll find a passage from the Graham Greene story, "The Third Man." The hero of that story is trapped before an audience that questions him about books he never heard of. That story is discussed in "How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read" - or at least that's what I heard about this book before we talk with the author, Pierre Bayard.

Well, congratulations on the book.

Prof. BAYARD: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: I would like to tell you that this book, "How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read" is fascinating and interesting. But I need you to show me how because I have not read this book.

Prof. BAYARD: Are you sure you did not read it? It's not so easy to assert that you did not read this book. So you tell me I have not read this book, but perhaps you saw the cover, perhaps you know the title, perhaps you heard of it, perhaps you got the book and skimmed it - all these ways of reading are interesting. And I try to show there is not only one way of reading from cover to cover. So I am not so sure that you did not read my book.

INSKEEP: Well, fascinating. So it's not an issue of black or white; it's one more issue where you want to dwell on the gray.

Prof. BAYARD: Yes. And I really think that the voracious readers inhabit this gray region between reading and not reading.

INSKEEP: Well, you seem here, as I just flipped through the chapters of this book - let's say that someone at a party begins discussing a book that I don't know anything about, how do I begin expressing an intelligent opinion about that book? What should I do?

Prof. BAYARD: When you ask a question and there's a form, what should I do? I think you'll begin to enter a space of fault of guilt. And I try to liberate people from this kind of fault. I mean, the first important point is try to stop being guilty about books. So when you said the question, what should I do? I should like to answer you, first of all, it's necessary to suppress the should in our mind about books.

INSKEEP: Suppress the should - what do you mean by that?

Prof. BAYARD: Hmm. I don't want to be too precise because I should like people buy my book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Are you saying I should read this book to get better advice on how to talk about books I haven't read?

Prof. BAYARD: If you are really in the necessity of finding solutions to speak about a book you have not read, perhaps one main point is to analyze the concrete situation where you are and to analyze what other person knows about this book. I am sure the person with whom you are speaking does not know the book as much as you think, you know?

INSKEEP: Okay. Thank you very much.

Prof. BAYARD: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Pierre Bayard is the author of "How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read." You can, if you choose, read an excerpt at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.