The Thing About Books Is, There Are Quite a Number You Don’t Have To Read

Donald Barthelme? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I was a young child I found the number of books in my local library overwhelming. I wondered how one could find the time to read so many books? When I was a slightly older child, I concluded that there were a enormous number that you don’t have to read. Donald Barthelme, the master of postmodern short fiction, apparently made this same point. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Donald Barthelme died in 1989, and his novel “The King” was published posthumously in 1990. Barthelme retold an eccentric version of “Le Morte d’Arthur” set in the early days of World War Two. During one scene Launcelot and the Black Knight, Roger de Ibadan, discussed military technology. Sir Roger highlighted the importance of the stirrup for mounted combat. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1990, The King by Donald Barthelme, Quote Page 35, An Edward Burlingame Book: Harper & Row Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

“Never thought about it,” said Launcelot. “I thought saddles had always had stirrups.”
“First appeared in North Korea in the fifth century,” said Sir Roger. “Books have been written about the influence of the stirrup on warfare. Not that I’ve ever read one. The thing about books is, there are quite a number you don’t have to read.”
“Never been much of a one for books,” said Launcelot.
“I’ve read a great many,” said Sir Roger.

In conclusion, a character in Donald Barthelme’s book “The King” did make this remark although QI thinks the notion is quite old.

Image Notes: Public domain painting titled “The Librarian” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo circa 1566. Image has been cropped, retouched, and resized.

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