Jay McInerny reviews First Chapter: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard in the NYT. He says in part:
"Bayard's hero in this enterprise is the librarian in Robert Musil's 'Man Without Qualities' (a book I seem to recall having read halfway through, and Bayard claims to have skimmed), custodian of millions of volumes in the country of Kakania. He explains to a general seeking cultural literacy his own scheme for mastery of this vast, nearly infinite realm: 'If you want to know how I know about every book here, I can tell you! Because I never read any of them.' If he were to get caught up in the particulars of a few books, the librarian implies, he would lose sight of the bigger picture, which is the relation of the books to one another — the system we call cultural literacy, which forms our collective library. 'As cultivated people know,' Bayard tells us, 'culture is above all a matter of orientation. Being cultivated is a matter of not having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books as a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to the others.'"
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 10:56 AM
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