To mention the topic of a book, I can say that such and such a book is about something or that it tells about something.

Can I say that it talks about something?

Ngram-viewer-ing the book is about, the book tells about, and the book talks about indicates that using tell and talk are far less common than be in this context.

ngram viewer: the book is about, tells about, talks about

Talk sounds weird to me because you do not talk to/with a book: language, information only flow one way, from the book to you; reading a book is not having a conversation with it!

  • 3
    Yes, that's common and idiomatic. In a slightly higher register, we might be tempted to replace talks about with discusses. But to reiterate: talks about is perfectly fine. – Dan Bron Mar 19 '16 at 16:50
  • A better stat to look at here is the 194 000 raw Google hits for "the book talks about". – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '16 at 17:12
  • The monophonic character of the communication is no objection to this usage, for one can surely say that a lecturer talks about something. – Brian Donovan Mar 19 '16 at 20:59
  • @user58319: Why do you consider the one-way nature of the flow of information to be relevant?  Would you consider "YouTube video X talks about Y" to be weird?  How about an audio recording of spoken voice (e.g., a CD/album by a comedian)? – Scott Mar 19 '16 at 23:47
  • "The story tells of bla.... blah.. " is just one way of saying "The book (or written story) tells its readers, what or who it is about" e.g. The story tells us. The verb speak and talk are just a variation on the same theme. I think this way of explaining is quite common in Romance languages. – Mari-Lou A Mar 20 '16 at 11:57

You're right to say that books don't normally talk, electronic children's books aside. The phrase the book talks about is a metonymic reference to the author of the book. That is, the book is in a sense the author's monologue and therefore the 'voice' of the author.

So the phrase the book talks about X means the author talks (or writes) about that subject in the book.

Talk sounds weird to me because you do not talk with a book, language, information only flow one way, from the book to you; reading a book is not having a conversation with it!

The phrase talks about is different from talks with. The former refers to a one-way flow of information as you describe, while the latter implies a two-way flow. So there is no inconsistency between saying the books talks about some subject and saying that you're not carrying out a two-way conversation with it.

  • Got it, I think: the author does not talk to the reader, but the topic is discussed in the book, that is, different characters in the book express different views, talking to each other. So, a conversation is actually taking place but not between the writer and the reader but among the characters. – user58319 Mar 19 '16 at 19:26
  • And it is true that in the phrase 'give a talk', the idea of a two-way flow is not present. To me 'talk' and 'two-way flow' seemed inseparable… – user58319 Mar 19 '16 at 19:42
  • When it comes to Homeric epic, however, I generally use the verb sings instead. – Brian Donovan Mar 19 '16 at 21:01
  • @user58319 Here, talk simply means speak or say or communicate. It doesn't carry the idea of a conversation, so the idea of a one-way flow of information from author (or book) to reader does fit this context. – Lawrence Mar 20 '16 at 2:58

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