As a reader, I'm sure you can relate to the idea that reading a book with the main premise being that we should read less as being a bit crazy. Pierre Bayard, a decade ago, wrote just a book that was subsequently translated from French to English after it became quite popular among those who read it. Presented as a series of essays that spiral into deeper topics on the subject, I found myself skimming at times due to a lack of interest. The body of the essays lacked interest for me tending to reference works that I'd never heard of or read myself.
If you are a collector of books on books then have a read of this one, if not, I'd say it's probably worth a pass. End of story, right? Well not quite. Despite the sections that I skimmed through, Pierre does provide an interesting overall theme to the book that can at times be hard to pull out. Scattered throughout the book are thoughts and ideas that seem to sit above any of the work previously discussed in the essay.
Take the essay on not being ashamed to talk about books you haven't read. The essay progresses much like the others referencing novels by an author, in this case, David Dodge, and using examples from Dodge novels to show that one should never be ashamed to talk about books that you haven't read. If that was the end, I'd have shaken my head and said what did I just read? In a moment of clarity, Pierre summarizes his paragraph with some progressive knowledge that everyone should take heed of:
"Truth destined for others is less important than truthfulness to ourselves, something attainable only by those who free themselves from the obligation to seem cultivated, which tyrannizes us from within and prevents us from being ourselves."
Wow. Without this piece of the puzzle, the essay didn't hold a lot of weight and yet these truisms remain with me even after reading the book. If you are deep into the book community through different forms of social media it can seem to be even more pressure-filled that we seem cultivated by reading many of these literary pieces. If you judge by likes then you'd say these books must be what everyone reads. Pierre squashes this notion and confirms that we must stick to our own truth when it comes to reading or anything for that matter. The minute we put on a different face we move away from our authentic selves and lose that connection that we might have had.
Perhaps it was me, but Bayard takes us on this journey through books he is both familiar and not familiar with and comes to the crux of his discussion and reason for pulling along this adventure. Bayard is focusing in on this notion that to be creative we must lift ourselves out of our preconceived notions of life and especially the books we read. He recognized the grip our own psychology towards books may have on us and notes:
"To begin with, such an evolution implies extricating ourselves from a whole series of mostly unconscious taboos that burden our notion of books. Encouraged from our school years onward to think of books as untouchable objects, we feel guilty at the very thought of subjecting them to transformation."
Critical of our upbringing and the education system Bayard links this system we are accustomed too with the inability to be creative:
"Our educational system is clearly failing to fulfil its duties of deconsecration, and as a result, our students remain unable to claim the right to invent books. Paralyzed by the respect due to texts and the prohibition against modifying them, forced to learn them by heart or to memorize what they 'contain,' too many students lose their capacity for escape and forbid themselves to call on their imagination in circumstances where that faculty would be extraordinarily useful."
When my eyes had finished rolling in my head, and I had time to digest what Bayard was saying, this book had stepped up a couple of notches in my mind. These seemingly silly notions of not reading the books and talking about books we've never read were really covert ways of getting us to get out of our comfort zone. To stop putting this idea of a book on a pedestal and allow our own thoughts and ideas to come forth. Mortimer Adler in his incredible work How to Read a Book gets to a similar notion in that we have to be able to not only read a book but truly understand what the book is saying and then synthesize that with our own ideas. Otherwise, what is the point?
So next time you hear someone talking about a book you've never read, why not jump in and offer up your own ideas on the book or the ideas being talked about. Stretch those creative muscles that may be feeling a bit lethargic.