Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Guilty Defense!

Written by: on September 4, 2014

From the moment I saw the title of the book, How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard, I became implicated by the title.  Not only for my past, but in an immediately predicting sense of what was about to take place.  While not even owning the book, with just the mere viewing of the title on the course syllabus, I quickly became a proliferator of Pierre’s work.  Empowered by title alone, or at least what it meant to me, my soul was liberated to begin sharing with others this fantastic book on the course syllabus for my doctoral program.  Over the course of three weeks, I enthusiastically became an advocate of this literary work, I had not yet purchased, read, or let alone touched with, dozens of people.

All joking aside, more than a book that peaked my curiosity with the potential intrigue from the title, I immediately saw an asset, that while implicating me, could potentially help justify and defend my personal habits, patterns and approach towards literature developed over my lifetime.  Much to my great pleasure, the actual reading of the text delivered the initial hopes and dreams conjured up in my heart, soul, and mind and I was left with three distinct defenses for my guilt.

First and foremost, I have been regularly accused of unduly purchasing books.  I am guilty of being a book buyer and it rarely fails that when I buy a new book, usually several at a time, my otherwise incredibly awesome wife, becomes exasperated with me for buying more books when I haven’t even read the ones currently lining the shelves and covering, in stacks, the once open surfaces of my office.  So you can only imagine my joy when reading Bayard with his account of Musil’s librarian and the great defense presented for me which I have penned, Why read the books I have, when I can build library? [1]  My defense rests on, not a claim that having a book in my office accomplishes anything, but rather the books I own each mean something to me and sit in relation to many other things in my life.  I do have them sorted literally and figurativley based on subject, content, style, emphasis, author, genre and such that truly brings valid meaning and a knowing about of all the books I own.  Finally, credibly evidence to for a defense against my guilt!

The second defense and verdict of guilt, if I am to be completely honest, has to deal with more of an inner conflict and justification battle.  The second defense is best articulated by the gift Bayard himself claims of his book.  Bayard writes in his concludeing thoughts on his composition, “What better gift could you make to a student than to render him sensitive to the art of invention- which is to say, self-invention?” [2]  The charge of developing great thoughts and ideas based on a book I haven’t read, word for word, has been a conflict within me over my lifetime.  In my school-aged years I struggled immensely with self-doubt and worth.  Reading was very difficult for me.  I worked very hard at it.  But with most of my best efforts, I never read every word of any book, therefore feeling as though I hadn’t read it at all.  I would say I grew up relatively imprisoned by believing every word of a book being read, needs to be read.  I felt like I inappropriately fabricated truths about books I had not read.   From Bayard’s work, I can see that the actual practice I had for reading books was valid and what I had gained from reading and the synthesizing that had taken place of the information I had read was valid.  Again, while guilty, a defense for talking about books I hadn’t read was gained.

The third verdict of guilt and defense, builds off of the second and powerfully affects my understanding of a communal or even global collective wisdom.  While Bayard was directly speaking of reading and our interpretation of knowing from what we have and haven’t read, I began to think of all knowing and how subjective all our knowing is.  So much of our pooled intelligence could be deemed, pooled ignorance.  I do not feel a negative slant needs to be taken, so I feel a pooled ignorance may be a bit dim.  But there is truth of the intelligence we do pool, being definitely fragmented bits and pieces of ultimately very random and fractured truths that are very relative and subjective.  As Bayard puts it, “What we take to be the books we have read is in fact an anomalous accumulation of fragments of tests, reworked by our imagination and unrelated to the books of others, even if these books are materially identical to ones we have held in our hands.” [3]  The accusation of guilt surfacing in this line of thinking is most of what we know, we make-up.  The defense however is, what we have made-up is actually what we do know. Again a sense of empowerment and voice is regained in my heart, soul and mind.

There is no doubt that I am guilty of talking about books I haven’t read.  I have definitely accumulated a library of more books than bindings I have cracked.  I have given voice to ideas, thoughts and concepts that I have conjured up from skim jobs, partial reads and books that I have read less than every word.  Ultimately, I am guilty of adding the bits, pieces and slivers of what I know about life, liberty and this world as truth that I know, but at least now, thanks to Pierre Bayard, I now have a defense for my guilt.

[1] Pierre Bayard,  How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (New York, NY:  Bloomsbury, 2007) 8-10.

[2] Ibid., 86.

[3] Ibid., 184.


About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

8 responses to “A Guilty Defense!”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Hey Phil, help me get my head around the “pooled ignorance.” I’m pretty sure there’s some really cool, deep insights under there but I’m having a hard time getting those rocks turned over in my brain!

    The idea of collective wisdom is an idea I’ve been pondering lately too. I found this site (simple Google search, top entry):


    where it proposes that soon, available knowledge will double every 12 hours where right now it doubles every 12 years.

    I don’t know if this is a legit site or not, I was just googling around, but it’s pretty interesting I think

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Correction. It doubles every 12 MONTHS now, not 12 years…

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon: The “pooled ignorance” thought was an attempt describe how much of what we add and contribute to conversations is not fail proof truth but really just our versions and perspectives. Ignorance is probably too strong or the wrong word but I was trying to reconvey Bayard’s point of how a good volume of what we say about books and things is created through our conversations, rather than absolute because of the text. Any clarity???

  4. Nick Martineau says:

    We better make sure the people we have the conversations with aren’t too ignorant. (-;

    Great thoughts Phillip!

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    I think it was Dawnel who had mentioned how a strong dose of humility is needed when one is aware of this approach or you could end up with a bunch of “ignoramuses” spouting off about things that don’t really know about. Unfortunately I believe I have been around those types and possibly 🙂 even in the middle of us such a huddle.

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    That is great that you have an affinity for reading and for books like you do. I felt the same as you did when I did not read all of my books in college. I felt like I was not actually getting everything out of the class and books I had read. I am like you now, knowing that you don’t even retain all of the information in a book you read. A college friend of mines who graduated from Azusa Pacific University moved to Florida and left me with my own library of books. And Philip I have yet to take them all out of the boxes. But since you got your library in action im on it too! Thanks

  7. Brian Yost says:

    I’m glad to know I am not the only one who can frustrate a spouse by buying lots of books, and let’s face it, a quality library looks impressive. I have a friend who went into pastoral ministry after 20+ years of music ministry. He moved into a church office with huge, empty bookshelves. He asked his friends for any extra books they may have so people would not see the empty shelves and assume he knew nothing. He was a great example of the pastors, who when asked, “Did you really read all those books?” could reply with a clear conscious, “I read some of them twice.” : )

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