Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to Appreciate Literature

Pierre Bayard knows how.

The line-by-line, cover-to-cover experience of a text, [Bayard] argues , is passé; true reading consists mainly of nonreading. By this he means not just an absence of reading but a positive set of shadow skills that we should honor and cultivate and teach to our children: browsing covers and spines, reading first sentences, skimming key passages, monitoring gossip, and b.s.-ing at cocktail parties. Deep knowledge of a particular book, Bayard contends, is almost always less important than an understanding of that book’s position in a “collective library”—the imagined cluster of books to which it’s related.