On reading, and non-reading

Some patrons are shocked when I admit that I haven't read a particular title. The most common title that causes such an upset is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have not read it. But one woman got quite visibly upset that I hadn't read anything by Nevada Barr. "DON'T YOU READ?" she accused me. "Well, yes... I do." But, like everyone, I have not read more than I have read.

I have also had a weird relationship with books. (Well, weird if you're a librarian, it seems.) If I have to read it, I hate it. I figure this goes back to school days when I was not inspired to read The Scarlett Letter (for example) when it was assigned, and therefore didn't enjoy it.* (This makes me a terrible book club member. I resist those book club deadlines like nothing else.)

Anyway, I stumbled upon this curious book about reading a couple of weeks ago...

Title: How To Talk About Books
You Haven't Read
Author: Pierre Bayard,
translated by Jeffrey Mehlman
In a nutshell: a book about talking
about books that you, er,
have not read. :)

Again, copying Alicia's way of introducing books in blogs...

In the first section of the book, the author (who is a professor of literature at the University of Paris) discusses different ways that readers engage in non-reading, as well as strategies for circumstances in which one could be expected to talk about a book that he or she has not actually read. The ways of non-reading that he discusses are really quite active (as opposed to simply not reading). One could read only about the books, not the books themselves; one could skim a book; one could understand a book by paying attention to what others say about it; or one could forget what they have read. (That has never happened to *me,* though. Hee hee.) He gets a bit carried away in my view, but he argues that there is value in the ways we non-read. For me, those ways include reading book blogs and reviews in the trade publications, listening to what patrons and other readers tell me about the books they read, and weeding the library's collection. (Oh, okay, and I non-read by forgetting what I read.) These activities all help me to include what I have not read in my (admittedly limited) knowledge of books, and to keep an entire collection in my sights. Not just the books that I have read. There's comfort in that.

I have no plans to stop reading, of course. I value it and enjoy it too much.

*I re-read The Scarlett Letter a few years ago and loved it.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

I picked up this book about a month ago, but I haven't, ha ha, read it yet. (Have I actively nonread it now that I've read your post?) I thought it was a fascinating premise—and, let's face it, an important skill (to use wisely), especially for those of us in the book business.

My book club met last night, and I hadn't finished the book (The Road, Cormac McCarthy) we read, though I wanted to—I thoroughly enjoyed what I did read. (Wow, I'm sounding like quite the reading winner this month.) Anyway, I still attended the meeting because I had a couple thoughts from what I had read, but more importantly because I wanted to absorb what I could of the story from the others. It's always important to stay a part of discussions on books—there's so much to be learned from such conversations—even if you have to be a slightly more silent participant.