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.