Monday, January 26, 2009

How to talk about books you haven’t read

Thank God, most people don’t read books. Imagine how drab a conversation would be if it were only about books—unless those involved were writers or literature students. At least in Singapore, what I have seen during my MRT train rides or on buses is not very intellectually threatening—most people either read The Bible or self-help guides or get-rich-quick books, the Rich Dad, Poor Dad kind of books. Looking at the titles of these books, you know these are not garrulous folks—they want some peace of mind and soul or want to get ahead in life. Nothing wrong with that.

But if you happen to find yourself in an unpleasant situation (with a pleasant person, let us say a person of the opposite sex you can’t ignore or a person of power you have to make a deal with) of talking about a book that you haven’t read, worry not. There is help. There are ways to come out of the situation unscathed, even sounding impressive and intelligent.

You don’t believe it. Roger that. Neither did I in the first place.

But this piece of reassuring wisdom came to me during the last happy holidays season when I hit upon a book by Pierre Bayard. It is called How to talk about books you haven’t read. Yes, you read it right. That is the title of the book. I had read a review of the book in The New York Times sometime ago but hadn’t had the opportunity to lay my hands on the book until now. I read it and I was convinced.


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