Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 25, 2007

Faking it – or: The importance of not reading…

Under the heading ‘The importance of Not Reading’  last week’s Economist reviews ‘How to talk about books you have not read’ by Pierre Bayard and translated by Jeffry Mehlman.  The book has not been published yet in England but it has been in the States where it was reviewed in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times under the title Faking It – which is of course a much more catchy headline.  In England, it will be published in January as a Granta Book, so you’ll have to hold your breath – I cannot recommend it as a xmas present. 

The book discusses the various ways in which you can get around reading books by not reading them and still sound knowledgeable: perhaps useful for all us bloggers who try so hard to have something to say about books and writing, almost every day of the week.  It can get tricky when you try and hold down jobs, families and other such diverting activities. 

‘Even as I read I start to forget what I’ve read’.  Doesn’t that sound familiar? 

This review ends with ‘Your reviewer’s mind wandered, as she explored ways of not reading this book.  Surely, she thought, books are like people, who can be unknown to us, or heard of, or “skimmed” (perhaps met) or forgotten, bu tnever truly known?  But that is to leave out love – for people and for books’. 

Amen to that, would not we have to stop writing as well as reading?  And then what?

I’ll put the book on my wishlist though as apart from raising this very existential challenge in the title, Baynard seriously discusses how we read books, or don’t read them whilst pretending we have – and let’s not forget, he is a Professor of Literature who knows what he is talking about.  He does not condemn however, but suggests that rather than pretending we have thoroughly read everything we review or talk about we should add abbreviations such as UB: Book unknown to me; SB: Book I have skimmed; HB: Book I have heard about and FB: Book I have forgotten.  Definitely a book to read, I think, something should stick, even if in due course it might get an FB.  At least readers of this blog can now add HB in front of this title.


  1. Heh.
    I remember reading that last week. I think there are only few books that truly grip, though, and leave a lasting impression. I suppose it has nothing necessarily to do with the author, but just as much on the mood of the reader and if he or she is interested in the book’s themes at all.
    About blogging. I have decided not to blog if I don’t have the time or the inclination. Life is too short to have that as another obligation hanging above your head…

  2. reluctantscribe: yes I totally agree, lots of the books I’ve read will eventually get the ‘cannot remember’ tag. My poor brain is in overload sometimes.
    As far as the blogging goes, yes, I agree, and so there are days that I don’t post anything. Especially when I’m busy doing the ‘exercises’ for the course 🙂

  3. I need to read that a-r-t-i-c-l-e! 🙂

    While certain books don’t have staying power in me, I still recall a small patch of the plot or remember a character or two when someone else mention them. But the ones that are my favorites are those that ingrain in me. I make an effort to re-read these books.

    As to faking the reading, I have always had doubt about reviewers’ not reading (or finish reading) the books they review on They were driven by the ranking and not by the quality of reviews. It reminds me of reading quizzes we give the students in summer school — questions that concern with whether they have done the reading and not literary analysis in which they can go off the tangent and fluff.

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