This week, we contemplate M. Pierre Bayard’s book How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. The argument, as I understand it, is that deep reading is passé. You know, reading sentences, turning pages, dwelling in the life a book from beginning to end…waste of time. Instead, M. Bayard promotes faking it. You read a review or two, perhaps you even skim the cover or first page, you snatch a few bon mots out of the ether (net), and voilà. You can smartly join the conversation at a cocktail party.
I think I could use a martini.
Intellectual subterfuge is hardly new. In fact, M. Bayard’s particular genius may be that he’s grabbed the copyright on skills known to undergraduates everywhere. Surely even a few of them (not any that I know) would even agree with Bayard’s proposition that “it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven’t read it in its entirety–or even opened it.”
In just this way, I hope to do justice to M. Bayard’s book.
Now I will grant that not every book is worth reading. Not every book is even a book. (I hear a certain Bieber has just signed a deal for his “memoirs”). But I’m not quite sure the cocktail party standard will quite do it for me.
Let’s say, for example, that we substitute “eating” for “reading,” and “pie” for “book.” So, the proposition becomes, “Eating pie is passé. Instead, we’ll read a description of a pie, just enough to fake out our friends.”
Now this will work, no doubt. You can go to your next dinner party and talk smartly about pies you have known. Just to give you some material, here’s this:
- It was peach, homemade, filled with sweet, juicy ripe Freestone peaches I picked at the local orchard. I made the crust with two sticks of butter, put lots of cinnamon in the peaches. You should have smelled the house while it baked: all that hot buttery crust, bubbling peaches, warm cinnamon. And the taste…mon dieu. We ate it warm, a scoop of slow-churned vanilla ice cream melting slowly on top.
Now I ask you, would you rather read the Cliff’s Notes about pie? Or eat the pie?