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How to Talk About Places You've Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel

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Written in the irreverent style that made How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read a critical and commercial success, Pierre Bayard takes readers on a trip around the world, giving us essential guidance on how to talk about all those fantastic places we've never been. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Places You've Never Been will delight and infor Written in the irreverent style that made How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read a critical and commercial success, Pierre Bayard takes readers on a trip around the world, giving us essential guidance on how to talk about all those fantastic places we've never been. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Places You've Never Been will delight and inform armchair globetrotters and jet-setters, all while never having to leave the comfort of the living room. Bayard examines the art of the "non-journey," a tradition that a succession of writers and thinkers, unconcerned with moving away from their home turf, have employed in order to encounter the foreign cultures they wish to know and talk about. He describes concrete situations in which the reader might find himself having to speak about places he's never been, and he chronicles some of his own experiences and offers practical advice. How to Talk About Places You've Never Been is a compelling and delightful book that will expand any travel enthusiast's horizon well beyond the places it's even possible to visit in a single lifetime.


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Written in the irreverent style that made How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read a critical and commercial success, Pierre Bayard takes readers on a trip around the world, giving us essential guidance on how to talk about all those fantastic places we've never been. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Places You've Never Been will delight and infor Written in the irreverent style that made How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read a critical and commercial success, Pierre Bayard takes readers on a trip around the world, giving us essential guidance on how to talk about all those fantastic places we've never been. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Places You've Never Been will delight and inform armchair globetrotters and jet-setters, all while never having to leave the comfort of the living room. Bayard examines the art of the "non-journey," a tradition that a succession of writers and thinkers, unconcerned with moving away from their home turf, have employed in order to encounter the foreign cultures they wish to know and talk about. He describes concrete situations in which the reader might find himself having to speak about places he's never been, and he chronicles some of his own experiences and offers practical advice. How to Talk About Places You've Never Been is a compelling and delightful book that will expand any travel enthusiast's horizon well beyond the places it's even possible to visit in a single lifetime.

30 review for How to Talk About Places You've Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    I received a free advance reading copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check! How to Talk About Places You've Never Been is a funny little book. At first, I couldn't figure out what tone the author was wanting to convey because he, quite seriously, discusses why and how to describe places that the reader has never been- a topic that I, before I read this, didn't take seriously at all. I finally settled my inner dialogue to "slightly grizzled professor who is smiling wh I received a free advance reading copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check! How to Talk About Places You've Never Been is a funny little book. At first, I couldn't figure out what tone the author was wanting to convey because he, quite seriously, discusses why and how to describe places that the reader has never been- a topic that I, before I read this, didn't take seriously at all. I finally settled my inner dialogue to "slightly grizzled professor who is smiling while lecturing" and that seemed to fit the bill. There's a lot to enjoy in here like Marco Polo's hilarious description of unicorns. Polo is presented as an armchair traveler because he left out so many important details about the area he was describing (like the Great Wall) and, quite brazenly, just made other stuff up: "They have great numbers of elephants and also great numbers of unicorns, which are not smaller than the elephants. Here is what they look like: they have the same hide as a buffalo, feet like an elephant, and they have very thick, black horns in the middle of their foreheads." pg 9 Oddly enough, that sounds rather like the Siberian unicorn, doesn't it? Only problem is- they became extinct so long ago, that Polo would have never seen one. The character Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, goes around the world and never leaves his cabin to see the sights. Bayard thinks this is an excellent strategy: "The idea of staying in your cabin for the entire journey highlights the importance of the imagination and reflection in our approach to place. These are activities that Fogg is able to commit himself to completely vis-a-vis the places passed through, with all the more energy because he doesn't waste precious time visiting them." pg 29 Chateaubriand went beyond simply trying to describe his travels in Ohio, he put an island into the middle of it in his "memoir" and Bayard applauds his imaginative creation as precise accuracy of physical locations is not what is necessarily important to an armchair traveler:"As Jean-Claude Berchet recalls, (the island) was first situated in what is now Florida at the time of Travels in America. Migrating, it then made a foray into the Mississippi at the time of an 1834 manuscript, before, following its movement northward, it found itself here in Ohio, several thousand kilometers away, clearly justifying the epithet of "a floating island." pg 57 Bayard's reasons why the reader may, one day, have to convince someone that they had been somewhere that they actually had not been: "The first is adultery. ... The second, murder, is fortunately less common, but any one of us might become confronted with the necessity of having to take this route to ensure our peace and quiet one day. pg 103 How exciting and dramatic! And here I thought this book was just about sitting in your chair and day dreaming. :) "It is impossible to hope to speak with any conviction of places you haven't been to without a vivid imagination. The capacity to dream and to make others dream is essential to anyone wanting to describe an unknown place and hoping to capture the imagination of their readers and listeners." pg 123 Dream on, readers, dream on! If you enjoyed How to Talk About Places You've Never Been, you may want to pick up The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton or The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau but, keep in mind, these books recommend that you actually go to the places, not just dream it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    Bought on impulse, fittingly, in an airport. I expected it to be funnier than it was. Some of the stories were interesting though, and the theories around psychology, experiences, and writing. You really have to work for it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristy

    I found the topic of this book interesting. Having been unable to travel as much as I'd like in recent years, I often armchair travel by reading books. I've been brought around the world in sumptuously descriptive stories, experiencing different cultures and places through my imagination. So I was sorely disappointed by this book's in ability to grab my attention. I felt like Bayard could have summed up his main points for each chapter in just a few simple sentences. Yes, the merits of having an I found the topic of this book interesting. Having been unable to travel as much as I'd like in recent years, I often armchair travel by reading books. I've been brought around the world in sumptuously descriptive stories, experiencing different cultures and places through my imagination. So I was sorely disappointed by this book's in ability to grab my attention. I felt like Bayard could have summed up his main points for each chapter in just a few simple sentences. Yes, the merits of having an objective, distanced view when writing makes perfect sense. Rather than being tainted by their own experience of a place, an author can fully imagine and depict a world to delight its readers. I only wish Bayard has succinctly summed these points up and been done with it, rather than trying and failing to write an entire thought provoking book. I did appreciate the glimpse into a few interesting armchair traveling authors and journalists (many with social and mental issues), as I had not been aware of these characters before. I also appreciated the slight, almost undetectable humor it was written with. Unfortunately, the humor was off-set by the un-engaging academic tone and it often felt like I was reading an academic article with lengthily written evidentiary support. Because I'm a goal oriented person and this book was short, I did finish it, though I struggled to do so.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    What this book is NOT is a guide about how to talk with others about places you’ve never been. What the book actually is is harder to define except that it’s a kind of spoof, written by a French psychoanalyst and professor of French literature, about dishonest (or, at least, not-what-they-seem) writings about unfamiliar places. Bayard includes brief chapter-length references to Marco Polo, Chateaubriand, Margaret Mead, the impostor George Psalmanazar, the fabricating journalist Jayson Blair, and What this book is NOT is a guide about how to talk with others about places you’ve never been. What the book actually is is harder to define except that it’s a kind of spoof, written by a French psychoanalyst and professor of French literature, about dishonest (or, at least, not-what-they-seem) writings about unfamiliar places. Bayard includes brief chapter-length references to Marco Polo, Chateaubriand, Margaret Mead, the impostor George Psalmanazar, the fabricating journalist Jayson Blair, and the German novelist of Westerns, Karl May. Some serious thoughts poke out of the bushes occasionally, but doubtless few readers really want to spend their time with book-length jokes, even short book-length jokes like this one.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Tennis

    While I have not yet read his book about books you've never read, I will most likely pick it up after reading this one. Bayard has a fun way of presenting his argument and backs it up with plenty of literary examples. I thought the book was supposed to all be a joke so I was a little shocked when the author went into such depth in supporting his claims on the benefits of armchair travel. Once I settled in the book was a delight and will recommend it to others.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Georgy Kalashnov

    Знаете, хочется в лучших традициях, вместо рецензии на эту книгу написать рецензию на книгу, которую я не читал, "Искусство рассуждать о книгах, которые вы не читали". Не читал, но осуждаю.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Phoenix

    Nu? Topia? Grasping his own coat-tails, Professor Bayard's follow up to his 2009 best seller How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is not quite as wry but interesting nonetheless. He discusses the types of fictitious accounts engaged upon by the armchair traveller. One genre is by the writers of fiction for whom the reader is willing to suspend judgement as to whether the writer has actually visited the realm described and who's reality may in fact be conditional on the necessities of characte Nu? Topia? Grasping his own coat-tails, Professor Bayard's follow up to his 2009 best seller How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is not quite as wry but interesting nonetheless. He discusses the types of fictitious accounts engaged upon by the armchair traveller. One genre is by the writers of fiction for whom the reader is willing to suspend judgement as to whether the writer has actually visited the realm described and who's reality may in fact be conditional on the necessities of character and plot. Jules Verne may have researched and interpolated the travels of Phileas Fogg but he did not actually traverse the routes that he describes in Around the World in Eighty Days. German popularizer of the Old West Karl May, who's characters Kleki-Petra, Winnetou and his companion Old Shatterhand shaped European perceptions of the old West and were the favourite fictional reading of Adolph Hitler, yet May had never been to the American West, and on his only visit to America occurred after he had written most of his novels. Even then he only went as far as Niagara Falls NY, perhaps as to not ruin the illusions he had created both for himself and for his readers. A 2nd category examined are tales told to impress but aren't exactly true, if true at all. Having only learned of Marco Polo's Asian adventures through school books I was quite surprised to learn that that the actual accounts included encounters with unicorns and griffins. He also includes some very titillating but likely false notions of rather extreme Chinese sexual hospitality, Similarly Bayard calls into doubt Margaret Mead's reports of free love among young Samoans. While eagerly lapped up and folded into the sexual revolution in the West, Mead only spent 10 days directly observing the Samoans before retiring to more comfortable accommodation with an American family. Most of her writing is based on interviews with the Samoan women who came to visit her, and the stories she copied down may actually have been nothing more than their romantic exaggerations. And then there are the blatant frauds. Former New York Times writer Jayson Blair, who, to cut corners, wound up writing most of his 1st hand interviews from the comfort of his apartment, filling details from other writers and books, and getting caught out as a plagiarist and a fraud. Drug and alcohol addiction seemed to be a contributing factor. George Psalmanazar, an 18th century Frenchman who made a living in England by lecturing and making a living concocting false tales of being a Chinese native of Formosa. Also Jean-Claude Romand, a man who who created a fictitious medical career at the World Health Organization, providing detailed fictions to his family of his travels on business abroad while scamming relatives with non-existent investments in order to maintain a rather mundane lifestyle of inexpensive and local motel rooms where he waited out the duration of his “trips”. Bayard fills out this short tome with his own fictitious accounts of of travels that he has never made to Easter Island and details of a Boston Marathon that he has never run. Is Bayard serious or is he writing a satire of post modernist literary analysis? I recently visited Bayard in his tastefully decorated antique white paneled Paris apartment located at the edge of 11ème arrondissement not far from the Père Lachaise cemetery where one of his subjects, the Vicomte de Chateuabriand is buried, and asked him that very same question. He smiled enigmatically as we sipped chamomile tea spiked with fresh mint selected from a basket of herbs hanging from his balcony. It had a view towards the national library and just a hint of the Seine visible in the background. “Are you really here,” he asked, “or are you the figment of my imagination? And does it signify anything different if you are not?” And at that instant I felt we had captured the essence of the book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    During the epilogue of the book, Bayard says, "This book has amply demonstrated that getting to know cultures that are different from our own doesn't in any way require physical movement - far from it." I recognize that this book is meant to be humorous, and there were times that I felt certain he was speaking sarcastically, but I could never really tell what point he was attempting to make. I enjoy travel firsthand, and I also enjoy traveling through the experiences of others. I was hoping this During the epilogue of the book, Bayard says, "This book has amply demonstrated that getting to know cultures that are different from our own doesn't in any way require physical movement - far from it." I recognize that this book is meant to be humorous, and there were times that I felt certain he was speaking sarcastically, but I could never really tell what point he was attempting to make. I enjoy travel firsthand, and I also enjoy traveling through the experiences of others. I was hoping this book would talk about loving to learn about and discuss places never traveled, rather than ways you could fool others into believing you experienced adventures you never have. There were certain quotes within the book that resonated with me, though to be fair they are mostly taken out of the context within which they were written: "If we think in terms of physical circulation, the logical question would be after how many kilometers - or, in terms of time, after how much time spent somewhere - could a traveler be considered to know a place, without forgetting that some people can spend their entire lives in the same place without really being able to say they know it." "Choosing to describe a particular image from the vast array of possibilities offered by a space cannot be done without linking that space to a discourse that gives it meaning and integrates it into the greater unity of a reflection or vision." "Physical presence is only one of the possible modes of presence and not necessarily the most profound." "What Fogg [Around the World in 80 Days] is refusing here is the fact that however great the attraction of the sights proposed to him, they would mean following a preestablished route compiled by the general opinion of his predecessors, a route along which he would be as much at risk of missing the place by becoming absorbed in the community of opinions as of getting lost in infinite detail." Overall, not the book for me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Schatz

    I just finished the book because I wanted to read something short and not serious. I found the book to present its thesis well, that is that we do not have to be in a location to know it, but it tends to drag on during some examples. The best are offered at the bringing of the book which leaves the second half rather dry. The most interesting aspect of the book is its challenge to author authenticity which has a glimpse of a critique of a fact perspective on the world: not one of particular dept I just finished the book because I wanted to read something short and not serious. I found the book to present its thesis well, that is that we do not have to be in a location to know it, but it tends to drag on during some examples. The best are offered at the bringing of the book which leaves the second half rather dry. The most interesting aspect of the book is its challenge to author authenticity which has a glimpse of a critique of a fact perspective on the world: not one of particular depth, simply that the impact of something doesn't always come from the facts themselves, but the belief in the truth of them.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Madison

    I don't know what I expected

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    One book that I read recently and wanted to give a great review is How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been by Pierre Bayard. Pierre is a French writer who also wrote How to Talk about Books that You’ve Never Read (another book that I will probably add to my to-read list). I went into this book thinking that it’d be great and I wasn’t disappointed. However, it was very different from what I thought it would be. I was expecting just a straight-forward list of tips on how to participate in conve One book that I read recently and wanted to give a great review is How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been by Pierre Bayard. Pierre is a French writer who also wrote How to Talk about Books that You’ve Never Read (another book that I will probably add to my to-read list). I went into this book thinking that it’d be great and I wasn’t disappointed. However, it was very different from what I thought it would be. I was expecting just a straight-forward list of tips on how to participate in conversations with others about places that you’ve never been. However, what I found was an entertaining, and often sarcastic, telling of many writers and authors who have managed to pull their readers into places that they’ve never really been themselves. He told stories of people like Marco Polo, Edouard Glissant, Chateaubriand and many others who convinced their writers of their travels when really they were simply “armchair travelers” (Bayard’s nickname for them0 I think my favorite quote from this book is that “the most important thing for a writer is to make his readers travel.” Because so often when we are reading books, we want to be able to travel to a far away place and become immersed in another world. Anyway, I highly recommend How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been to anyone looking for a well-written non-fiction book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    I don't think this worked as well as Bayard's other book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, but it was an interesting jaunt considering it's not very long and didn't take much time to read. His Margaret Mead example was also difficult for me, having just read Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science in which she disproves the attack on Mead that Bayard uses here. His points here, like in his last book, seem vaguely tongue in cheek, but he never I don't think this worked as well as Bayard's other book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, but it was an interesting jaunt considering it's not very long and didn't take much time to read. His Margaret Mead example was also difficult for me, having just read Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science in which she disproves the attack on Mead that Bayard uses here. His points here, like in his last book, seem vaguely tongue in cheek, but he never succeeds in convincing me I must talk about places I've never been. Talking about books you haven't read is something that often comes in handy - knowing just enough about a cultural object to engage in a kind of shorthand with people about it is useful at dinner parties and whatnot. There seems to be no reason to fake having been somewhere, since people are far less likely to hold that against you? Eh. An interesting experiment.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I was a fan of Pierre Bayard's previous book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, largely because he provided such interesting literary examples. This time around, Bayard's act feels worn out. Despite a few interesting examples - the fraudulent Marco Polo, Margaret Mead relying on unreliable informants in Samoa, and odd defenses of Rosie Ruiz (who cheated in the Boston Marathon) and Jayson Blair - the obscurity of the literary theory on display was tiresome. Part of the fun of the previous I was a fan of Pierre Bayard's previous book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, largely because he provided such interesting literary examples. This time around, Bayard's act feels worn out. Despite a few interesting examples - the fraudulent Marco Polo, Margaret Mead relying on unreliable informants in Samoa, and odd defenses of Rosie Ruiz (who cheated in the Boston Marathon) and Jayson Blair - the obscurity of the literary theory on display was tiresome. Part of the fun of the previous book was that I constantly wondered whether or not the book was an extended joke ; now I'm convinced that the author is equally unsure.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    On the surface, this book is an intellectual dissection of the armchair traveler---that person who has poured over every atlas, every World Book, Foreign Affairs magazine article or a Thomas Friedman column in The New York Times, and can tell you about all the statistical, cultural, and geographical nuances of every continent and several countries, without having ever stepped foot on the land. Bayard respects this person. He respects the hunger and curiosity. Bayard understands, further, that tr On the surface, this book is an intellectual dissection of the armchair traveler---that person who has poured over every atlas, every World Book, Foreign Affairs magazine article or a Thomas Friedman column in The New York Times, and can tell you about all the statistical, cultural, and geographical nuances of every continent and several countries, without having ever stepped foot on the land. Bayard respects this person. He respects the hunger and curiosity. Bayard understands, further, that travel is physical as well as intellectual. His small book is a defense of the intellectual and imaginative and literary quality of travel.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marvin

    Idée au départ intéressante: Pour bien décrire un pays étranger, on n'a pas besoin de se rendre sur place. En fait, on peut faire un meilleur travail en restant chez soi et en lisant les récits de ceux qui s'y sont déjà rendus. On peut ainsi garder une perspective plus globale du lieu à décrire. Je salue la tentative faite par M. Bayard, mais quand j'ai refermé le livre, je me suis dit que non, finalement, c'est bien mieux de voyager, de découvrir les autres pays par soi-même et de se faire sa pr Idée au départ intéressante: Pour bien décrire un pays étranger, on n'a pas besoin de se rendre sur place. En fait, on peut faire un meilleur travail en restant chez soi et en lisant les récits de ceux qui s'y sont déjà rendus. On peut ainsi garder une perspective plus globale du lieu à décrire. Je salue la tentative faite par M. Bayard, mais quand j'ai refermé le livre, je me suis dit que non, finalement, c'est bien mieux de voyager, de découvrir les autres pays par soi-même et de se faire sa propre idée.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Logan Sander

    Any good things about this book were overshadowed by its pretentious, overly sarcastic and not-funny narration. Bayard makes assumption after assumption, making wild claims about people and literature that are quite possibly not even remotely true. He also seems to pick unintuitive examples to support, like the story of a lying murderer, just for the sake of going against the grain or being cheeky. Truly a painful book to read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Reader

    I received this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.... It's a decent and solid read, yet failed to keep me interested. I had a really hard time following with where the author was trying to take it's readers. It felt out of balance, and bounced all over the place. I've heard good things about the author and he does seem to have a lot of talent, yet this book felt bland to me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    Well, Brian Williams is in good company as he is not the only writer/reporter who claims to have been where he was not and Pierre Bayard covers a multitude of writing/reporting deceptions in his book. Maybe I don't really need to go to the Caribbean to write and exclaim all about it, I can just never leave home, save money and fake it!!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    VERDICT: Smart and hilarious book about the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction. Highly recommended to the deprived traveler in you, the author, and the reader. my full review is here: http://wordsandpeace.com/2016/03/16/b... VERDICT: Smart and hilarious book about the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction. Highly recommended to the deprived traveler in you, the author, and the reader. my full review is here: http://wordsandpeace.com/2016/03/16/b...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathrin Passig

    Schöner Anfang, schöne Idee, aber nach den ersten ein, zwei Kapiteln hatte ich das Gefühl, es sei eigentlich schon alles gesagt. Mir war zu viel Psychoanalyse drin und zu viel literaturwissenschaftliches Gerede ("atopic space", "spatial jamming", "abstract representation of loci"). Aber wenn einen so was nicht stört, ist vielleicht auch der Rest des Buchs interessant.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette Harding

    I got this book as a giveaway on good reads and I had a hard time finished it. I think it just wasn't my style... but I could see how other people would find it funny.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Zoli

    It is an alright essay.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Blake

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  25. 4 out of 5

    John Budding

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michele Stefanile

  27. 5 out of 5

    Skd3d

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mirre

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cari

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