The Telegraph is still talking about Pierre Bayard and his How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read (a book I , incidentally, haven’t read) this time in the context of undue reverence for books. We hoard them and fetishize them. We punish ourselves with them. Maybe we should, you know, not do that and just read the things. And failing that, just not read them.
Do you ever start talking to an incredibly boring person at a party and say to yourself, after five minutes: “Well, he’s incredibly boring, but I’ll talk to him for another 30 hours. He’s bound to get better.” Or, when you’ve finished with a newspaper you’ve enjoyed, do you ever put it on a shelf on prominent display so that you can admire it from a distance and never read it again?
No? Well, why do so many people do the same with books? I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met on holiday who are 100 pages into a book, still hoping it’ll warm up.
Some of these same people are then amazed when they see me dog-earing a book, writing in it or, with a really big one, tearing it up into chunks to read on the beach. They’re bored to death by their own reading, but they still think all books should be treated as precious relics.
I’m as guilty as the next guy — OK, far guiltier — when it comes to treating books as precious relics. Surprisingly, though, I’m not afraid to just toss a stinker. I turn into a pragmatic priest when I approach the literary altar — I want results. The good books, now those are worth being precious about.