The other day I came across a review of a book called “How Do You Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?”, by French writer Pierre Bayard. As you might expect, Bayard describes the techniques involved in discussing in detail books one has not actually read. Fans of pub culture will recognize this at once as a variation on the British art of Talking Bollocks.
The French, to my certain knowledge still discuss literature in some depth and public libraries are one of the top copping off venues. It used to be like that in Britain of course. I have had many a good time as a result of hanging around the shelves where Tolkein or Timothy Leary could be found in Bolton Library. But I am not here to go into misty eyed reminiscence, not even about Andrea.
To me discussing books one has not read smacks of pretentiousness so I would like to promote an essentially British variation: “talking about soaps / celebrity reality shows you have not watched” which is much more likely to yield results as you wander round Tesco.
We are all far more aware than we realise of television shows we do not actually watch because of the extent to which tele. shapes our lives. For example, my wife sees somebody playing a small part in Midsomer Murders, she rouses me from a catatonic trance and says “he used to be Argy Foskett (or whoever) in East Enders.” and I can strike up a conversation about the character defects of Argy Foskett and the manner of that person’s leaving Walford (either shot/blown up/mown down/ clobbered by spouse / business partner or departed in a taxi to begin a new life in Manchester. Those are the only two exit plotlines for East Enders characters)
The epitome of this skill is proposing better scripts ideas than the scriptwriters. There is an open story in Emmerdale at the moment, who killed the bastard. Everybody is a suspect it seems but simply from watching clips and reading TV reviews I have worked out that the way poor old Tom the Bastard exited the upstairs window of the Manor House proves he was either propelled by an elemental force or that little TJ (an unprepossessing child) had wandered into his bedroom and in the half light Tom, who had had a few apparently, it being his wedding day, mistook the boy for Chuckie from the Child’s Play films and in desperation to get away went through that window like an Olympic sprinter coming off the blocks.
Its the same with reality shows, even those of us who don’t watch can’t fail to be aware of them; not even a high court judge would dare to say “… and … mm …who … mm, … is this… mmm… Jade Goody.?” There cannot be a single person in the country so out of touch they were not aware of the goings on in Celebrity Big Brother. Who among us does not have an opinion on Carol Thatcher’s wee or wossername’s testicle chewing.
You may not watch these shows but you see clips, read about them in the paper (yes, even us Guardian readers) and hear colleagues talking about them. And so we can and do all join in. But what was the last book most of us discussed? The Da Vinci Code, which is about as lowbrow as is possible unless one has hobbit feet.
So what would be the point for we British of trying to talk about books we have not read when nobody else has even heard of them?
How To Talk About Books We Have Not Read