Update: Ortho at Baudrillard’s Bastard adds that these lists would be useful for bluffing (as in a bluffer’s guide for cocktail parties) and the book How to speak about books you’ve never read? by Pierre Bayard. John Sturrock recently discussed it in the LRB (after swearing that he really had read it):
This is a witty and useful piece of literary sociology, designed to bring lasting peace of mind to the scrupulous souls who grow anxious whenever the book-talk around them becomes too specific, and either say nothing or else say too much, only to feel bad later on at having faked first-hand acquaintance with authors or titles they know they’ve either never read or totally forgotten.Bayard’s title, you’ll have noticed, ends with a question-mark, a sly interrogative concession which might just perhaps ensure that he won’t get lazily shelved down the cultural end, if any, of the self-help bay in the book stores, when what he has written is in no sense a bluffer’s guide, full of practical tips on how to stay afloat at the next bookish conversazione you get sucked into. Rather, he wants us to know that it doesn’t in actual fact matter how much or how little we’ve managed to read, we can still go confidently ahead and have our say.
His point is simply that we care overmuch about dividing the too many books we live among into the two bald classes of the read and the unread, as if they were the only two classes there are. He can do better. He divides the books he at any rate used to live among into four, more nuanced and more realistic categories. There are the books he doesn’t know at all; the books he’s speed-read; the books he’s heard tell of one way or another; and finally the books he’s read but forgotten, as one more victim of what he nicely calls ‘an irrepressible movement of oblivion’.There is, that’s to say, no category of books that he’s read from first word to last.
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