One of my favorite insights from Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is the counter-intuitive claim that someone who truly loves books would never dishonor them by reading one of them.
Time spent reading a single book is time not spent on all the millions of other books. Non-reading, for Bayard, is not the absence of reading. It’s a reflection on literature. It’s an understanding of how a book is situated in relation to other books.
Bayard’s is an intellectual’s take on books, one that’s informed by having read thousands upon thousands of books already. His is the belief that relationships between texts are more important than the texts themselves.
It’s the recognition that ideas live, not in texts, but in the spaces between texts.
But I do remember many of the connections between the books we read back then—indeed, I remember far more of the connections than I do the specifics of the books themselves.
And me, wheeling around the chaos in my trusty chair, picking up a book over here, a photocopied essay over there. Physically moving things nearer each other when ideas intersected. A secular intellectual take on the old Christian rituals. Stand. Read from a text. Kneel. Sit, head bowed in thought. Pace and mutter banalities, hoping for the occasional inspiration.
Sure, it’s great to have readers for your writing. But a lot of reading is a pretty passive activity—a lean-back sort of affair where the author lays out a path and readers either follow along that path or don’t read at all.