How to Talk About. . .

Sam Anderson knows exactly how to talk about a book called How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

"My biggest gripe is that Bayard’s conception of reading is entirely social—a way to rack up points at cocktail parties. At the risk of sounding like the fusty old crank everyone does impressions of in the faculty lounge, I still believe in the private ecstasy of reading. It’s one thing to jockey for social position by saying that Dostoyevsky introduced psychology into the novel, or that Chaucer had a fuller grasp of humanity than Shakespeare. It’s another thing to experience, with your full attention, Raskolnikov wandering feverishly around St. Petersburg, or the young scholar farting in the face of his romantic rival in 'The Miller’s Tale.' Real reading is not just hoarding fodder for cocktail chatter, it’s crawling, phrase by phrase, through a text and finding yourself surprised or disappointed or ruined or bored with every other line. This direct connection—the voice that enters your brain and mingles with your own internal voice—is the only way books really matter, and experiencing it requires a kind of deep surprise at the words in front of you. If anything, we’re already too good at talking about books we haven’t read. The challenge now is to preserve our ignorance."