Month: December 2018

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard

Posted December 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre BayardTitle: How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read (Goodreads)
Author: Pierre Bayard
Translator: Jeffrey Mehlman
Published: Granta, 2009
Pages: 176
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Recommended for lovers of Translated Non-Fiction, or Books about Books

There are many books out there about how to be a better reader. The whole books-about-books sub genre is filled with both reading journeys and strategies to improve the way we read. There is only one book I know of that focuses on how to talk about books without having read them. Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read teaches us the art form of not reading.

“Because I teach literature at the university level, there is, in fact, no way to avoid commenting on books that most of the time I haven’t even opened. It’s true that this is also the case for the majority of my students, but if even one of them has read the text I’m discussing, there is a risk that at any moment my class will be disrupted and I will find myself humiliated.”

Pierre Bayard adopts the persona of a literature professor who is not interested in reading. While I do believe it as a persona, you must wonder how close the truth it might be; he is in fact a professor. He breaks up the books we have not read into four categories. Books You Don’t Know, Books You Have Skimmed, Books You Have Heard of and Books You Have Forgotten, taking the time to give the reader tips on how to talk about books, whether you have read them or not.

 “When we talk about books…we are talking about our approximate recollections of books… What we preserve of the books we read—whether we take notes or not, and even if we sincerely believe we remember them faithfully—is in truth no more than a few fragments afloat, like so many islands, on an ocean of oblivion…We do not retain in memory complete books identical to the books remembered by everyone else, but rather fragments surviving from partial readings, frequently fused together and further recast by our private fantasies. … What we take to be the books we have read is in fact an anomalous accumulation of fragments of texts, reworked by our imagination and unrelated to the books of others, even if these books are materially identical to ones we have held in our hands.”

While Bayard has adopted a tongue in cheek approach to this book, there is a lot of useful information to be found within the pages. The key here is to develop the confidence to talk about books in general. Look at the BookTube community, one of the staples of that is the book haul. Here people discuss the books they have brought recently, most of which have not read been read yet. The idea is to develop the skills and the confidence to talk about these books. For example, if we talk about a book we have not heard of, we can make assumptions about the text based on the author, cover and many other aspects; we do this all the time when in a bookstore. We see a book and determine if it is something we want to read without knowing anything about the content. Books we have skimmed or forgotten about still mean we have valuable things to say, why did we skim? Why was it so forgettable?

While this was a lot of fun to read, the true message of the book really spoke to me. This idea that we need to develop the confidence to talk about books even when we have not read them or forget major points. I read a novel recently and I somehow skipped a very important event, while talking to my wife it became clear I missed it. Embarrassing? Yes, but it proves just how easy it is to forget or skim over an important part of the book. I know I need to develop more confidence to talk about books, and How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read served as a reminder of this fact. I joined a book club, started a BookTube channel, and even a podcast because I want to talk about books, but I know I still have a long way to go in building my confidence in talking about books in general, not just the ones I have read.

I Want To Do More

Posted December 18, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in What I Think About When I'm Not Blogging / 8 Comments

I have been talking about my future in blogging and other mediums for a while now. I still do not know what the right answer is. As my reading has shown, I want to spend more time talking about books in translation. I am so passionate about my new-found niche that I keep having thoughts of killing my blog and rebuilding it with a focus. Although I think this is a bad idea, I keep wanting to find new ways to promote world literature, because I think it does not get enough attention. It has improved in the past few years but there is a long way to go.

One of the reoccurring thoughts was to build something like Book Riot, Electric Lit or Lithub but have it focus solely on promoting books in translation. However, this idea is just far too big for one person and would require others to help. My past experiences with trying to get others involved have taught me that something like this rarely works unless everyone has the same level of passion. Which has led me to try and come up with new ideas to promote books in translation.

I currently have podcast called Lost in Translations dedicated to talking about books in translation, but I want to do more. I need ideas. I would love to grow the brand and offer more but I need to think smaller. I have decided to do more on the blog that is less reviews and more in the style of essays. Maybe I can incorporate my desire to improve my writing with my passion to promote translations. Maybe I need to start writing those articles promoting world literature but post them on my blog. I do not know, my desires to do more are far greater than my personal abilities. I have big ideas but need to focus on my capabilities.

I hope to be blogging more in the future, it really is my favourite medium and I have tried many. I love my podcast, which needs guests if anyone is interested, but I do think writing might be my primary focus. Next year makes ten years blogging and I hope it will be a successful year for my writing. I write this to communicate the thoughts circling in my head lately and help get myself back into blogging. Between being made redundant and then NaNoWriMo, I have not dedicated much time to writing for the blog. I hope to do more, I miss it. It is almost like an addiction. If I am not posting something it feels like I am not writing, which is not always the case. I guess I just like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I post my writing on my blog.

I think in 2019 I will try transforming my blog more into a media type site, focusing more on writing articles and keeping people informed about world literature. I am not sure what this will look like, if this will mean a name change or anything else. I will just do my part to work towards creating the content I would like to see.

Organising My New Book Shelves

Posted December 13, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

My new bookshelves

A week ago, I was made redundant, a feeling from which I have still not fully recovered. For the last four weeks I was told that I had to show up to work and prepare for this transition. It is meant to be a time where the company can offer support and help try and find new work. Basically, it is a period of time where you are stuck feeling unwanted, not wanting to do any work and waiting to exit from the company. I thought that maybe I could use this time to write and catch up on my blogging or reading but this was not the case. The emotional rollercoaster left me feeling like I was in a slump and not wanting to do much of anything. Every call I got to check up on my felt like I was on suicide watch. It was far more difficult that I could even put into words.

However, I knew I did not want to be there, I was somewhat excited to leave this company. I have been there for twelve years and it felt like the only way I would step out and try something new. So I was excited for the change as well as constantly feeling unwanted. It was a weird cocktail of emotions. It was never really worried about my future, I think I have a plan, I just have to see how it plays out. It was never about the unemployment, I was actually looking forward to some time off, and I had plenty of tasks I wish to complete. It was just the complete combination of everything else and not really knowing how to express everything going on in my head.

Writing about it is not even helping. Usually I find that I am able to fully understand my thoughts when I try to write them down. I have often realised that I felt a particular way while writing. It is weird to discover an emotion you did not know you were having. I am just not very good at expressing myself. Maybe growing up as an outsider has dulled my ability to fully understand my emotions. I know I am not very good at social interactions, so maybe there is a connection.

One of the main tasks for the first week of my redundancy was to sort out some bookshelves. My wife gave me a new bookshelf for my birthday and I had decided to use the two bookshelves in the study as my primary shelves. These are the shelves you see when I film a video for BookTube, so maybe I should fill them with all my books in translation. Obviously, I am new to this niche, so I have combined it with books I love and books I know I want to read. However, the majority of the books on these shelves, I have not read yet, so it pretty much my TBR shelves. I do have a priority pile of books to read in the bedroom, but these are all the other books I want to read. Let’s call it my aspirational reading list.

I added all these books to the shelves in alphabetical order, and it filled up quicker than I expected. The plan is to cull the English books first, but I am hoping this will be a way to start building my library. In other words, if all my other books were to be culled, I would be okay with that. These are the ones I want to keep more than the others. Obviously, I am not going to cull my other books, there are three other shelves full of books, but I am planning to do a major purge. I know I have changed as a reader, and some of these books are never going to be read.

This is my starting point, and I already realise there are gaps that need to be filled. I am missing some Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, and Bolaño. These are authors I love and want to read everything they have written. I have discovered books I have completely forgot about, books I want to re-read right now and books that bring back good memories. A collection of John Keats poetry that remind me of my honeymoon, a Dashiell Hammett novel that I read in Paris, or a beautiful edition of Frankenstein that my wife gave me for our wedding anniversary. These memories and books are all safe together.

My other shelves were never organised in any way and I just love looking through the shelves not knowing what I will discover but with these new shelves I did want the organisation. During the process of sorting the books, I left a whole shelf for a letter that I expected to fill up quickly, like the M’s and N’s but it was never those selves that took up so much space. It was the K’s or the B’s that I was surprised to find the most books. I know it is going to be a lot of work to sort when adding new books to the shelves, but part of the pleasure is going through my shelves.

My dream would be to sort my books out by continent, but I do not own enough books for that, yet. I would easily fill a bookshelf of North American literature but my focus in books in translation would be neglected. I know Europe would be easy to manage but I never want to forget about the rest of the world. I have been focusing on South America lately, but I think more of the books I have read came from the library. Which I will have to start to do more now I do not have a regular income, but these two shelves are there to remind me that I need to read these books and that I need to start filling the gaps. Which will mean, eventually I will need more bookshelves and then I may have enough to sort by continent. These are dreams and goals with my books, I might even have to go through and categorise all these books like a library. Keep track of them in a database, I have the time to do that.

One of the things I love to do is to go to my shelves and look at the books, I know it does not help me keep to my own reading plans, but I just like to be distracted by other books. I am that kind of nerd that is obsessed with literature. You know I am just looking for new ways to talk books with the world.