Do you finish every book you start?

The University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard’s best seller How to Talk About Books That You Haven’t Read is flying off the shelves in France. Not only does Bayard tell readers how to fake literary orgasm, but he admits to giving lectures on books he hasn’t bothered to read. I’m sure Bayard’s book will be met with outrage from many academics on this side of the Atlantic who lack the French national penchant for public display and intellectual pretension. Obviously, there is something seriously reprehensible about Bayard’s know-nothing chutzpah (or whatever the French word for that is). Our goal as teachers is to teach what we know, not what we don’t. But, outrage aside, perhaps it’s time to admit that not reading has its virtues as well as its vices.

An all too predictable moralism surrounds the reading of books. There is a prescribed way of reading: one page at a time, starting from the front of the book to the back, paying close attention to every single page in order, no skipping around. But the reality is that most of us graze — read a bit, put the book down, start up again. We may pay more attention to one part than another, skim boring parts, and even (heaven forfend) leap over long, dull tracts. Some very strange people even admit to reading the end of a book before the beginning, which is sort of like eating dessert before dinner

Huckleberry Who?” by Lennard J. Davis, The Chronicle Review, March 23, 2007
Hat tip ALD

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