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

As with the game ‘Just Cause’, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read seems like a review columnist’s dream.  The joke is obvious; write a review that has nothing to do with the book itself, or at least a review that starts with that joke.  A pretty popular book when released, HtTABYHR discusses in short silly chapters the meta-entity of books.  Each chapter focuses on a book (except for the one that cites the execrable film Groundhog Day) and looks at an aspect of the ways socially we deal with books.

When you view a book as a social entity or currency, and consider the need to discuss books as separate from any need or desire to actually read books, a lot of academic and literary conversations make much more sense.  What are books, after all, but hyper-romanticised wood-pulp containers that transmit ideas; if the ideas are transmitted and understood, what need is there for actual reading?

Some reviewers like (Barbara Nackman) feel shock that people pretend to read books they haven’t (perhaps they’ve never sat in a café at a university and heard students and lecturers alike bluffing.)  Others like Maggie Reads joke a little, and have some fun discussing what constitutes ‘reading’ (skimming, half-reading, scanning, completing the reading after writing the review or article?)

As the title and early chapters suggest, reading a book renders one singularly incapable of understanding what that book is about, and in many ways prevents one from being able to say anything of any matter about it.  In this spirit I drafted my review before I had finished skimming the table of contents, and am finishing this review’s final draft ten pages before I actually do finish the book.  I may intend to read the whole thing, but I want to review this book in the spirit it was written.

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The Canberra Booktrack

There’s been several versions of the Canberra Booktrack pamphlet released, detailing the independent, local booksellers in the area.  There’s some good ones that are just a tiny bit out of the way, and they’re really worth a visit.

Now, there’s a website, which is exciting for information’s sake, but I imagine for anyone with web-capable phones this makes the list a lot more accessible.The one thing the website seems to lack when compared to the pamphlet, is a map of all the stores at once.  Since they’re listed alphabetically rather than geographically, it may take a bit of clicking around to find the store closest to you.

I haven’t visited every store on the list yet, but I hope to.  I blame some of the stores closer to my home, for occupying my time (and wallet) more often than not.  We can’t compete with bigger places like Melbourne for choice and price, but we don’t do too bad here either.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that local independent bookstores aren’t included by default – they must join the Booktrack to be included – and there’s still a lot of other awesome book and comic stores in Canberra to hunt down that aren’t mentioned in the guide.  I’ll try to visit and cover some of them here in the next year.

I sold my soul to read a novel.

Or, rather, a member of my family sold their soul and then passed the ill-begotten fruits to me.  That’s right, I’m one belated Christmas gift heavier (though not very much, only a hundred or so grams), and it’s a Kindle.  While I suspect the much pricier Sony readers may have suited me better, in the end they’re all being sold in an attempt to lock readers into proprietary formats; since I’m not planning on paying for an ebook that comes with copy protection from either Angus and Robertson or Amazon, I’ll be gleeful with what I have.

What I am doing with my Kindle is highly fun and exciting.  I have now:

  • Converted fan-translated novels, fanfiction, and various file formats into .mobi files using calibre.
  • Had fun with Project Gutenberg downloading bibliophilic and archaeological themed public domain books, as well as staples like Dickens.  I suspect I will end up reading more than I can possibly review.
  • Used the text-to-speech function to amuse myself.  Highlights of hilarity include sex scenes, non-English proper nouns, huge pauses after commas (but not between paragraphs or scenes), and the awkward pronunciation of many many words.
  • Become friendly and intimate with Baen’s reader-friendly ebook download library.
  • Felt disgusted that to use some basic functions like categorising my document library, I must apparently register a fake name my personal details with Amazon.
  • Read things.

What I suspect I’ll actually love most of all, depending on how tables and figures end up, is my newfound potential to convert .pdfs of journal articles to .mobi files for easy reading and annotation (I can always keep a copy of the .pdf as well, to view tables of data).  One of my pet peeves is alt-tabbing between my word processor and various open articles during study, and fingers crossed it will make the composition and editing of academic writing all the easier.

What’s most interesting, coming into the ebook device owning world and reading up a bit on commercial ebook sales, is the clashing and confusion over geographical tax and copyright laws, and consumer attitudes.  Customers want cheap books, not tax elevated books.  Role-playing companies selling short modules and updated for $0.99 US are frustrated by the $2 markup in some international zones, when they’ll sell it to everyone for the same price from their website.  It’s a fascinating mess in the grey area between the shared culture and spaces online and the geographically specific retail and consumer laws that govern pricing and access.  I fully intend to post again soon either with links to some of the core issues, or to blogs that cover them and have links to spare themselves.

I’ve posted in the past about ebook reading hardware and some of the associated changes in bookselling:

Do Readers Dream of E-lectric Books?

Dymocks and Book Prices on the ABC