By Juliana Adelman
You may recall the controversy a couple of years ago when the French academic, Pierre Bayard, published a book in which he claimed to deliver lectures on books he had never read. How to talk about books you’ve never read purported to advise the ‘chattering classes’ on how to maintain literary pretensions. If you read the fine print, Bayard says that he writes through a fictional character: he never actually admitted to being what he called a ‘nonreader’. Nonetheless, he struck a nerve and the book became a bestseller in French and English. A number of related articles and surveys have appeared, which seem to demonstrate that lots of people routinely lie about what they have and have not read. A piece in the Guardian, for example, looked at an English survey that found 42% of respondents had falsely claimed to have read George Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four. Why ignorance of this particular book is so embarassing to English people, I cannot quite grasp.
Anyway, we in Pue’s were discussing a similar subject of late and wondering what books in Irish history were read a lot less frequently than they were either purchased or discussed. Some of us have had the experience of reading an oft-discussed text only to discover it did not appear to say much of what others seemed to remember that it did. Leading us to of course conclude that many people had not read the text in question, merely repeated what they had heard or had read in other books. See, we academics didn’t need to read Bayard’s book. We’re already experts in talking about things we haven’t read. What is it that makes a book a classic, though? Is it the actual content, or is it the popularity of the few sentence summary that everyone remembers?
We came up with the following list of books people interested in Irish history and culture may or may not have read. Of course, none of us are admitting that WE haven’t read them. Dear me, no. We wonder what other books might go on our list. Please make suggestions.
1. Roy Foster, Modern Ireland: 1600-1972
2. Diarmid Ferriter, Judging Dev
3. Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland
4. Joep Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fior Ghael
5. F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine