November 02, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Pierre Bayard
publisher
Bloomsbury
genre
Nonfiction
We gave it a B

This French best-seller is less a bluffer’s guide to great literature than an intellectual defense of not reading everything. It’s not necessary to know the contents of any one book, Paris-based professor Pierre Bayard says, to place it in the collective library of great literature. (Why lose the forest for the trees?) In How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, he name-checks Montaigne, Umberto Eco, and Paul Valéry, who wrote a tribute to Marcel Proust though he had ”scarcely read a single volume” of the man’s work. Likewise, you need not pore over Bayard’s often circuitous prose to grasp his argument. Skim his wittily annotated table of contents instead. B

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