Sunday, December 30, 2007

How To Talk about Books You Haven't Read (copy)

This past fall, I was walking with my girlfriends when one asked if I was a fast reader. My answer was not really; although, I am much faster due to library school. In some courses, students are required to read 25 books, give weekly book talks, and write essays on each book. One is forced to speed up in order to keep up with the course work.

Then my friend continued her line of questioning. Do I read the whole book I’m writing about? Well, I never thought that would be a question. I admitted to not always finishing books before deadline, but that was a technicality. Yes, I do read the whole book, not scan the material.

For the book talks I write it isn’t necessary to complete the book. What person in their right mind would tell the ending anyway? It happens though. I was truly enjoying a review in the Commercial Appeal when the reviewer wrapped up her review with the ending. Well, what good is the book now! It is like a movie trailer which uses all the best parts of the movie and then gives an ending shot. I’ve heard of “dummying down” but to give the whole storyline—whether book or movie—is going too far.

Now this girlfriend has me thinking. Do I really need to spend my time reading all these books? Oscar Wilde said, “I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so.”

Then a copy of How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard was laid on my desk. Now, here is the inspirational guide to my new resolve to not waste time reading.

Author Bayard demonstrates his point through a literary librarian in the parody, The Man without Qualities by Musil. This librarian, known for his exceptional organizational skills, refuses to read any library books in his care. Bayard’s explains:

Reading is first and foremost non-reading. Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening up all the other books in the universe.
Bayard’s book is purely tongue and cheek, but I see a use. I might need to start reassuring those books around the book I choose so feelings aren’t hurt. But wait a minute, books have no feelings. Right, they evoke feelings, but they have none?

I think this is going to be the first resolution I break in 2008. Not only do I need my walking buddies, but I need my book friends, too.


Anonymous said...

Maggie a lot of people talk about books that they haven't read. I AM reading "Wittgenstein's Poker" which is a fine book if you like philosophy and history and biography rolled into one. :-)

maggie moran said...

Sounds good Paul! I'll look it up. Happy New Year! :D

Deana said...

I can barely talk about the books I have read. I liked to be taken all in by the book, mind, body and soul. But I don't read as much as you guys do so I suppose it is different. If I HAD to read something I might need to just scan.

Maggie I hope you have a very wonderful Happy New Year and I hope 2008 brings many great things into your life!

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to decide whether or not I should read this book. It's title invites us not to! But maybe if I take it all in fun it will be good reading. Happy New Year!

sage said...

Maybe I should post on how I got through college without reading everything while working a 40 hour shift (without the interent)... My first year or two after college, I read most of the books I'd skipped.

As far as this book is concerned, somewhere I heard it described as just what America needs--a nation that's becoming more illiterate being told how to read even less...

maggie moran said...

Deana, he has a category just for me, Books You Have Read but Forgot! ;D I read so much stuff sometimes it is in one eye and out the other, Bah!

It's highly scholarly, So Many Books. It sounds like a anti-doctorial paper, but fun to read. He makes fun of colleagues and college students who try to generalize their way through a book conversation. Could be a good lie-detector manual. ;D

Me too, Sage! Although, you went back and read them! ;D

Well, like I was telling SMBs, it is more scholarly than the title admits. I’ll give any slacker points if they search the catalog, find it on the shelves, and checks it out in desperation. ;)

Lisa said...

I always read books in their entirety if I review them. However, I don't necessarily think it's necessary to read the entire book to give a book talk. I see them as two totally different things. Am I wrong? I do like the idea of this book, though. I think it is interesting, but disturbing at the same time. Maggie, I hope you and your family have a healthy, safe and happy 2008!

maggie moran said...

You are right Lisa!

For booktalks you present to faculty/staff/students/patrons you just regurgitate the hook in your own words. Most times the hook is in the first three chapters, but there are always exceptions. From Nancy Pearl to The Booktalker's Bible, they all say you have to read the book and you need to like it. I found I don't necessarily have to like a book to talk about it either.

I want readers to trust what I have to say about books, so I always try to read them in full before writing about them. Endings are important in the overall scheme 'cos if they suck the book will suffer and people will want to know why I suggested such a dud. And, it blows me away, people actually read my suggestions. :D

Thanks Lisa for the good wishes and I look forward to more of your great posts in 2008. :)

Isabel said...

If you are on a deadline, don't read the whole book, unless you really really looove it! You have a life!

I heard that some professional book reviewers don't read everything either! (I think this is bad, though).

Happy New Year!

maggie moran said...

Happy 2008, Working Words 100!

I'm in a good place right now. I had to push out three articles before vacation and opted for three 1/2 night reads including H2TaBYHR. I finished my next week's book yesterday and now I'm working on committee books.

*Next!* ;D

When I do real reviews, I have this rule of reading the book three times. Have you ever heard of this? I feel Booklist reviewers really read the whole book; I trust them. Others such as authors reviewing authors in the New York Times leaves me unsure. You can tell when someone hasn't - calling Manny a sad-sack, when his character is anything but, in Last Night at the Lobster - because they just get things wrong.

Jeane said...

I always feel itchy to write something in my blog about a book I'm in the middle of, but resist. I feel compelled to finish or I think I can't conceive of it as a whole- that I might have missed something...

maggie moran said...

Jeane, that's a thought! Wonder if you could write like a half-time post for when you reach that mid-point and want to say something, just so you don't forget it, and then compare with your finished book thoughts.

Half-time post, am I thinking football, or what!?! ;D

Lesley said...

I got a copy of this book for Christmas - in fact, it was the only book I got!

maggie moran said...

Lesley - Is the person trying to get you to read less?!? ;D