Book review: How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been – I love France 184

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



How To Talk About Places You've Never Been

Author: Pierre Bayard
Translator: Michele Hutchison
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release date: 1/26/2016
“Comment parler des lieux où l’on n’a pas été ?”
was first released in French in 2012
Pages: 185
ISBN: 9781620401378
available also as ebook
Nonfiction/Literary Criticism/


Other books by Bayard available in English

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This book is a riot! If you are complaining not having enough money to travel, go read this book and you will realize how lucky you actually are, because your experience of traveling through books will be more rewarding than if you were going physically to that country of your vacation dreams! How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been is super funny and serious literary criticism at the same time. Plus, it is full of great tips for writing!

As he explains in the Prologue, Bayard goes far beyond the idea that traveling can be dangerous and other such negative sides of traveling.
He prefers to turn to famous authors (with many examples throughout the book) who, as armchair travelers, managed to describe in minute details places they had actually never been to, and in such a way that they managed to fool their readers.

So in the first part, he reviews different types of non-journeys employed by various writers and thinkers.
Thus he talks about accounts by Marco Polo, by Jules Verne, by Édouard Glissant (on Easter Island, thanks to a close informant), and by Chateaubriand.
Imagining and reflecting on a place while stepping back may produce an account even more accurate than if you had been in a place too close and lingered there!

In the second part, he talks about cases “when the practice of lying about the place you were at a particular moment can turn out to be of great utility, or even prove to be crucial to your safety or survival” (p.xiv).
He looks closely at the question from different angles: anthropology (controversial studies by Margaret Mead), journalism (Jayson Blair’s writings), and even sports: in 1980, Rosie Riuz won the Boston Marathon, with the third-fastest record for a woman in any marathon. Unfortunately, her narrative was not good enough at describing the places she had run through, so she was accused of taking a shortcut, possibly even using some mode of transportation during the race, and could not defend herself!
Other cases where the ability to speak of places you haven’t been to might be required include adultery and murder – here are given some juicy examples, showing how geography and inner landscapes can interact.

In the last part, the author offers practical advice “to those who, desirous of encountering foreign cultures, have understood that running around the world at their own risk is not the best way to go about enriching their minds.” (p.xv).
Bayard speaks about the atopic character of literary space, about supplementing descriptions with elements borrowed from other real or imaginary worlds.
To reinvent space in an imaginative way may even require to blur not only physical but temporal boundaries (time travel). But is has to be done in such a skillful way that the readers themselves will feel transported elsewhere, as if they had themselves crossed “the permeable boundary separating reality from fiction” (p.160)

What makes a good traveler is an ability to pass through geographical places in the knowledge that each of them contains a part of yourself and can open up a path toward others, as long as you are wise enough not to stop anywhere along the way.
p. 175


You should listen to yourself most of all, and devote yourself to writing and the reconstruction of the self if you want to attract others to your inner landscape through  universal experience.

So I highly recommend this smart and sometimes hilarious book to you, whether you regret not being able to travel to other places, whether you are a writer, and also for the way you read the most famous authors:

knowing how to appreciate their accounts in a different light, no longer just for their documentary value but with all the poetic and heuristic power they possess to invent possible worlds.


La critique littéraire peut être à la fois érudite et hilarante, comme le prouve ce livre de Bayard. À lire absolument, que vous regrettiez ne pas avoir les moyens de voyager, que vous essayiez de prendre la plume vous-même, ou tout simplement pour vous donner une clef de lecture des plus grands auteurs.

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.


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.


Pierre Bayard

Pierre Bayard (born 1954)
is a French author, professor of literature
and connoisseur of psychology.
A few of his books present revisionist readings
of famous fictional mysteries.
Not only does he argue that the real murderer is not the one
that the author presents to us,
but in addition these works suggest that the author subconsciously knew
who the real culprit is.
His 2008 book L’Affaire du Chien des Baskerville
was published in English as
Sherlock Holmes was Wrong: Re-opening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles.
His earlier book Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?
re-investigates Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
His book on Hamlet which argues that Claudius did not kill Hamlet’s father
remains untranslated into English.

Eiffel Tower Orange

Have you ever tried to describe places
you had never been to?


Eiffel Tower OrangeEiffel Tower OrangeEiffel Tower Orange

This book counted for the following Reading Challenges

New Authors French Bingo 2016 logo
Books in Translation 2016 2016 Nonfiction Challenge



11 thoughts on “Book review: How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been – I love France 184

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