Books On Books: How to talk about books about books

I love books. So much so, I even love books about books. And Pierre Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” is among the best.

It is possible to have a passionate conversation about a book that one has not read, including, perhaps, especially, with someone else who has not read it…

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

If, like me, you cannot fathom walking into a bookshop or library without thinking “how on earth will I read them all?”, this book is for you. It is a salve for this precise emotion.

Bayard argues the merits of not reading. In fact, the entire first section of the book describes “Ways of Not Reading“. “Unread” books are divided into books “you don’t know”, “you have skimmed”, “you have heard of”, and “you have forgotten”.

Each book receives an abbreviation – UB for unread book, SB for skimmed book, HB for heard about book, and FB for forgotten book. The author also rates each book – even for those UBs and HBs. Because one of Bayard’s chief lessons is that you don’t need to read a book so long as you know where it fits in the grand scheme of books.

This book about books quotes some of the most important – and humorous – literature of our times. Despite the inclusion of one of my favourite authors, David Lodge, my favourite example is of Musil’s librarian. He refuses to read, as his love of books “incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others”. (p. 8). This, perhaps, explains the atrociously large number of UB that I own.

A few years ago when we moved, I downloaded some software and catalogued my entire library (Dewey Decimal, of course) before packing them safely into cartons. During this process, I discovered that I owned over 100 UB. So how are we to deal with UB, when confronted by others? Bayard suggests:

  • Not being ashamed
  • Imposing your ideas
  • Inventing books
  • Speaking about yourself

This is a delicious little book that I found very hard not to read.

But then there are other sorts of books about books. Like one I spotted in the library, called “How to Use the Library”. It was a rather slender volume. As, I suppose, it should be. Assuming you were able to locate, borrow, and read that book, I’m not exactly sure what would be left for it to teach you.

Then there was the odd-sounding ebook advertised in my inbox, entitled “Kobo eReader for Dummies”. And in case you’re wondering, yes, it was an ebook. Now, I could understand the usefulness of a more advanced guide. Tips and tricks. Even one marketed under the “for Dummies” umbrella. But judging from the book’s description it seems far more basic:

Here’s how to use and love your Kobo eReader the gadget dedicated to reading. [Why one needs instructions on how to love a gadget I do not know.] Want to carry hundreds of books magazines and newspapers everywhere and not hurt your back? Load this e-book onto your Kobo eReader and we’ll show you how! [Have you not already performed the necessary steps to carry hundreds of books and magazines/newspapers without hurting your back simply by loading the eBook on to your eReader? I mean, after that, it’s just “rinse, repeat”, surely.]

It’s a quick-and-easy course in reading electronically, shopping for e-books, converting your own files for the eReader, getting the most from the device, and keeping your Kobo happy. [Again – if you have managed to read this book on your Kobo, you have already learnt how to read electronically and shop for eBooks. Converting your own files is useful, but not enough to fill a whole book, and the Kobo website already shows you how – for free.]

Hello Kobo – get acquainted with all the features and controls and learn how to charge the battery. [In order to read the bloody book you are already familiar with the controls! And charging the battery? It doesn’t come charged out of the box – you would have had to have already done this in order to read the book!!! There are instructions printed on a sticker affixed to the screen!] Go shopping – download e-books find free books and subscribe to newspapers or magazines. [Again – and I really can’t stress this enough – YOU HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS!] Carry more than books – load PDFs of your travel itinerary phone numbers or presentation notes onto your eReader. [This is the same thing as learning to convert your own files, which has already been mentioned.]

Get unwired – if you have a wireless Kobo eReader set up and configure it to access online bookstores. [Again – check the website to get this very information for free.] Find free stuff – explore Project Gutenberg,, Feedbooks and Google Books for books in the public domain. [This was already mentioned too. What a lot of padding this blurb has.] Fix annoying glitches – find misplaced e-books resize PDFs solve wireless connection problems and reset a stalled eReader. [Now we finally get to the meat of things. At last.]

Open the book and find: Why EInk can be better than an LCD screen; How to adjust the type size for your comfort; Files your eReader can’t take; Tips for managing and organizing your reading list; The difference between EPUBs and PDFs; How to reset your Kobo eReader if all else fails; Ten must-have accessories for your Kobo eReader; Information about valuable software utilities like Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

And now we’re back to obvious land. If you don’t know the difference between eInk and an LCD screen, why did you buy an eReader in the first place? All these other topics are all covered by the website once again, with the exception of the accessories – but really, that’s just a glorified catalogue, isn’t it? One you are paying for.

I will say though that Calibre is a marvelous piece of software, so the book may be worth it for this snippet of info alone.

Let me make one thing clear: the above is not intended to ridicule the content of this book. It is meant to ridicule the choice of ebook as a format for a book that is clearly targeting those who unfamiliar with ereaders. Surely a traditional paper book to guide them through the process would have been more appropriate.

After all, what on earth is the use of an ebook telling you how to reset your ereader “if all else fails”? If all else is failing and you need to reset when your ereader has frozen, YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO READ THE EBOOK ON YOUR EREADER TO FIND OUT HOW TO RESET IT. I suppose the only option is to read right up to that point with a view to commiting that section to memory, all the while praying your ereader doesn’t freeze.

I think we can all agree, a paper book is the only sensible format for this particular title.

Do you love books – print or electronic? Join my street team!

2 thoughts on “Books On Books: How to talk about books about books

    1. Ah, the pile of unread books! It’s an interesting conundrum. While I’m quite good about minimalism in almost every other aspect of my life, book collecting is my one weakness…!

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