And Those Buying the Book Aren’t Reading it, Either

By Carmen Comment

The last time Pierre Bayard made a splash in the literary world was with WHO KILLED ROGER ACKROYD, an intellectually-minded analysis of Agatha Christie novels and detective fiction. Now the man who specializes in links between literature and psychoanalysis is back in the news in a big way in his native France with the release of COMMENT PARLER DES LIVRES QUE L’ON N’A PA LUS (How to Talk about Books that You Haven’t Read), the Times reports. That’s because even though the book was originally destined for academic bookshelves, it sold out almost immediately, was reprinted and is now rising to the top of the bestseller lists.

The publisher, Minuit, now wants to get it on supermarket and airport bookshelves. “I think the success shows that it has touched on a sensitive point,” Professor Bayard said, adding that his aim was to help people to avoid feeling guilty about their failure to read. He says, for instance, that he wants to free French intellectuals from the taboo that prevents them from confessing that they have only leafed through the works of Marcel Proust – “although that is the case for most of them”. He says that a valid literary opinion can be formed by dipping into a work, hearing others talk about it or skimming through a review of it.

And indeed, plenty of critics in the UK world are jumping off Bayard’s thesis. John Sutherland invokes David Lodge, Jacques Lacan and Stephen Pile in finding others who write about books and bullshitters; and Ros Taylor has some fun commenting on Bayard’s book even though she, of course, has not read it. Something tells me that if there are no plans for an English translation, there soon will be…