How to review a book I haven’t read | TahoeDailyTribune.com

How to review a book I haven’t read

Lydia Chagolla

“How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” by Pierre Bayard

I have really enjoyed working at Neighbors Bookstore. This has been the best job I have ever had and I hope that I will be able to get another one that is just as terrific. A lot of people seem to look down on retail work, but it isn’t so bad. As antisocial as I have been most of my life, working in retail has brought out something in me that wasn’t there before — a genuine pleasure in talking to people. This has been especially true when discussing literature, something that has enriched my life so much.

One thing that I have had a hard time with while working at Neighbors is talking about books that I haven’t read. I have never been good at it.

Who wants to admit their ignorance of the classics or philosophy or even modern best sellers? People assume that just because you work at a bookstore you must know a lot about every subject. This just isn’t true.

Many people prefer one genre to another. Everyone has their personal favorites. I have to admit that I really, really, really hate it when I tell a customer that I have never read a particular book or author and their mouths drop open and they look at me like I am insane.

If I could devote my every waking hour to reading for the rest of my life I would not be able to read everything that I would like to. There are too many books that exist and more being published every day. A lifetime is not enough.

So how does one go about speaking authoritatively about A) books they do not know, B) books they have skimmed, C) books they have heard of or D) books they have read but have forgotten? Ask Pierre Bayard, author of the best selling “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.”

Don’t ask me because I haven’t had a chance to do more than skim it. It’s almost Christmas and I have been busy with eBay auctions, last-minute shopping and trying to finish up Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth,” which I am enjoying greatly, so I can return it to my co-worker.

Please don’t get me wrong here. The subject interests me greatly. If I want to stay in the book business I feel that I will eventually have to read it from cover to cover.

From what I have gathered in my skimming, though, Mr. Bayard doesn’t want me to do this. In his opinion, it is not necessary to read any given text to speak about it as if you are an expert.

He also states that it is unnecessary to feel guilty or embarrassed by non-reading, so I won’t. In fact, I believe that in writing this non-review I am absolutely reveling in my failure to read the book. Kudos to me. Mr. Bayard would be proud.

Besides, I’d rather read for the sheer pleasure of it, not because I have a review due for the paper. Books may be my business but they are more my passion. I love the way they smell and they way the paper feels between my fingers. I love books because their characters are sometimes better companions than real people. I love the idea of haunted forests, fairies and talking dogs; of dragons, wizards and Hobbits; of falling down a rabbit hole and finding yourself in another world. I love books for the images they summon when I close my eyes and the feelings they evoke in me.

Franz Kafka wrote, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. We need the books that effect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into the forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

I don’t even know where this quote comes from. I haven’t read Kafka. But to me it is beautiful all the same.

– Lydia Chagolla is a sales associate at Neighbors Bookstore.


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