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11 January 2008



How To Talk About Books
You Haven’t Read


by Pierre Bayard


Copyright 2007 Les Editions de Minuit

English Translation copyright 2007 Jeffrey Mehlman

“I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so.” —Oscar Wilde

It is unsurprising that so few texts extol the virtues of non-reading. Indeed, to describe your experience in this area, as I will attempt here, demands a certain courage, for doing so clashes inevitably with a whole series of internalized constraints. Three of these, at least, are critical.

The first of these constraints might be called the obligation to read. We still live in a society, on the decline though it may be, where reading remains the object of a kind of worship. This worship applies particularly to a number of canonical texts—the list varies according to the circles you move in—which it is practically forbidden not to have read if you want to be taken seriously.

The second constraint, similar to the first but nonetheless distinct, might be called the obligation to read thoroughly. If it’s frowned upon not to read, it’s almost as bad to read quickly or to skim, and especially to say so. For example, it’s virtually unthinkable for literary intellectuals to acknowledge that they have flipped through Proust’s work without having read it in its entirety—though this is certainly the case for most of them.

The third constraint concerns the way we discuss books. There is a tacit understanding in our culture that one must read a book in order to talk about it with any precision. In my experience, however, it’s totally possible to carry on an engaging conversation about a book you haven’t read—including, and perhaps especially, with someone else who hasn’t read it either.

Moreover, as I will argue, it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven’t read it in its entirety—or even opened it. Throughout this book, I will insist on the risks of reading—so frequently underestimated—for anyone who intends to talk about books, and even more so for those who plan to review them.…

from the Preface


[ It’s time to speak a bit about these weekly excerpts. I should first say that my choices are, of course, personal. They are books that I’ve purchased—no freebies—that I’m reading, have read or believe that I should read. ( With apologies to M. Bayard.) So with the qualification that they just might be books that I have not read completely, I still recommend them to you for your consideration.

So, in a sense I’ve “reviewed” them all and on that basis could justify the quotes as part of my review. But even without the review justification there's also the matter of "fair use"—and, yes, I bring this up out of a concern for copyright and the author’s moral right.

Regarding "fair use" (and if I understand it correctly) the central issue I believe is one of profit. Am I profiting in any way from including these excerpts in my journal—am I “reselling” the author’s hard work to my benefit? No. This weekly journal is free; we’ve even removed our donation link. And I also think of the use of these quotes as broadly educational—another “fair use” criterion.

What I mean by all that is that I believe that writers should be paid for their work and hope that out of seeing works quoted here you will find a book you would like to buy and read. Or talk about even if it hasn't been read.

Here are some book store links and a link to the site that keeps track of INDEPENDENT BOOK STORES. Ed.]



Los Angeles Times/16 December 2007


A look at Mormon theology

by Stephanie Simon


How did the Mormon Church get started?

In 1820, a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith Jr knelt in the woods near Palmyra, N.Y. to ask God which church he should join. He later reported that he saw two glowing figures who told him that all the churches of the day had fallen into apostasy, believing false doctrines....Over the next several years, Smith said he was visited by an angel named Moroni.…

What do Mormons believe about God?

Mormons believe the Heavenly Father is the same species as man; he has a body of flesh and bone—only more perfect than we could imagine. He’s married to a Heavenly Mother.…

Why do Mormons baptize the dead?

Mormons say they want to give everyone a chance to enter the most exalted realm of heaven. So they perform “baptism by proxy,” in which young Mormons (generally teenagers) step into a baptismal font while the names of the dead are recited. The dead, hovering in a spirit world, then have a choice to accept or reject the Mormon faith.…

Don’t Mormons have to wear special underwear?

At the time of their ritual cleansing (known as “washing and anointing”) both men and women are given temple garments, which look like a boxers-and-T-shirt set embroidered with sacred symbols.…

Are Mormons Christians?

Many denominations do not consider Mormons to be Christians. Some call them a cult.…


EACH WEEK we scan ads from an actual catalog, a catalog selling junque. (That's junk with cachet.) These ads are real. Maybe they don't seem real, but they are.

This week we include items from the wonderful Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog. I've missed H-S., and I'm sure that you have too. So let's have a look.

Yes, that's a clock at the bottom of our H-S selection, below the lovely throw. And it's a clock that tests the ancient brain. Yes, oh, I get it, the time is 12:39. See, you count those squares and...Now if I could only remember the month and year. And the name of our president. No, forget that; I don't want to remember.

And immediately below is a photographic throw, useful only if you would like to have images of family members woven into the fabric so that you could then throw it. Go over, pick it up, and then throw it again. "Cheat me out of that money you sumbitch...Here, spend some time in the cat box, you crone, you hooker. It was my home too, you..." Kick you, kick, kick, kick. "Cretin. Have a little mud...Now you're a doormat."


Dutton's Brentwood; Los Angeles

Tattered Cover; Denver

Powell's; Portland

Strand; New York

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