Adam Sage in Paris
A distinguished professor of literature at Paris University has become a bestselling author with a work explaining how he comments authoritatively on books that he failed to finish, has forgotten or has never read.
Pierre Bayard, 52, who specialises in the link between literature and psychoanalysis, stunned specialists with the admission that he is anything but an assiduous reader.
He says that he often makes references in lectures, meetings, reviews and conversations to works that he has not read — without being found out.
However, Bayard — who has never finished Ulyssesby James Joyce and forgotten what Steppenwolf,Hermann Hesse’s classic novel, is about — claims that this in no way devalues his opinion.
“It’s possible to have a passionate conversation about a book that one has not read, including, perhaps especially, with someone else who has not read it.
“The discourse on books that have not been read places us at the heart of a creative process which leads us to their origin,” he says in his work, Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus (How to Talk about Books that You Haven’t Read).
Although Professor Bayard’s work was destined for theworld of Parisian academia, 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.
Bayard’s list (es el autor del libro)
-Books he has started but not finished
The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil
Ulysses, James Joyce
-Books he has only heard others talk about
The Aeneid, Virgil
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
-Books he has read but forgotten
The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
-Books about which he admits he knows nothing
Mémoires, Joachim du Bellay
*His top tips
-How to talk about a book you have never read
Avoid precise details. Put aside rational thought. Let your sub-conscience express your personal relationship with the work
-How to review a book
Put it in front of you, close your eyes and try to perceive what may interest you about it. Then write about yourself
-How to discuss a book with its author
Stick to generalities, remain ambiguous and say how much you like the work