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

I Feel Dumber Than A Stump

Written by: on October 5, 2017

Of the 137 authors listed in the recommended reading list in Appendix A of “How To Read A Book” by Adler and Van Doren [1], I am embarrassed to say I have truly only read seven (7), and two of those were the Old Testament and New Testament! How could a educated guy who attended a private high school and university possibly get pushed through with only reading a scant few high quality books? Are you kidding me–a Diploma, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ordination only produced SEVEN classics? I feel dumber than a stump!

My Seven: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And of course the Old Testament and New Testament.

And now when I look deeper at the list, I see Martin Luther and John Calvin made the list.  Did I remember digesting these must reads while studying to be a Pastor? Nope! Once again, I feel dumber than a stump.

But wait a minute–surely I have read portions of a bunch of these books. Upon closer inspection, yes I have! Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Dante’s Divine Comedy. Shakespeare’s Works. Milton’s Works (somehow the same title is shared with Shakespeare). Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Dicken’s Works (there’s that title again). Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Freud’s The  Interpretation of Dreams.

And thankfully, though certainly not as an expert, I have paused numerous times while reading vast portions of the Articles of Confederation, Constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence. Kinda makes me want to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance…

Sorry to say, movies don’t count for some of the books listed, especially the chick flicks my wife wishes I would watch with her, like Cervante’s Don Quixote, or both of Jane Austin’s classics, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. Actually, not patting myself on the back, but I bought those exact titles for her from last year’s Christmas list.

Lest it seem like I am using up my one attempt at writing about a book I have not read, let me dig into what I have decided was the best point for me of the entire book. It centered around the words “I UNDERSTAND” from chapters 10 and 11. I discovered that is the central reason of why I read–to understand! I didn’t know I was advancing past the first two levels of reading (elementary and inspectional) onto the third level of analytical reading. Maybe I am not dumber than a stump.

Isn’t that enough of a reason to read any book? Simply to understand?! The authors suggested that before you can agree or disagree, or suspend any judgment, you must at the very least be able to analyze the book. I agree! Why do I agree? Simply, because without understanding the author, the title, the preface, the appendix, and the meat contained in all the chapters–reading is largely a waste of my time. Understanding is the most practical reason for reading, and I am a practical man. That’s why I am getting my DMin and not a PhD. I crave practice over philosophy, practicality over intellectualism.

I am a little sorry to say the fourth level of reading, the synoptical, is one I rarely venture into. Probably because I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. I am quite sure Dr. Jason is going to push me further into the synoptical. Probably thinks it is one of the biggest parts of his job as Lead Mentor. I am not disagreeing. I can use all the help I can get. Especially if he can help me achieve what chapter 20 suggests,

“…their (graduate students) efforts are enormously wasteful because they do not understand how to read some books faster than others. They spend the same amount of time and effort on every book or article they read. As a result, they do not read those books that deserve a really good reading as well as they deserve, and they waste time on works that deserve less attention.” [2]

I also choose to comment on chapter 18 on how to read “Canonical” books. I absolutely loved it when the author stated, about the members of churches who are believers, that the Bible is the actual words of God penned by men, and those who read those holy words do so “reverentially.” Amen to that.  Furthermore, he says,

“Here, in fact, we must stop. The problem of reading the Holy Book–if you have faith that it is the Word of God–is the most difficult problem in the whole field of reading. There have been more books written about how to read Scripture than about all other aspects of the art of reading together. The Word of God is obviously the most difficult writing men can read; but it is also, if you believe it is the Word of God, the most important to read. [3]

I am impressed that the authors knew to capitalize “Word” and “Scripture”, but I am even more impressed they stated if you believed it was the Word of God, then the Bible is the most important book to read!

On an interesting closing note, what would a new chapter for this book read like if he added some thoughts on “How To Read A Book Using Your Kindle?” Would any of the strategies be different? Probably not, but I think it is harder for me to do many of the steps the author outlined efficiently because technology only allows me to read the very page I am on, without being able to quickly scan the entire book from the table of contents to the back cover and various places in-between.


[1] Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. (New York: MJF, 1972), Appendix A.

[2] Adler and Van Doren, 306.

[3] Adler and Van Doren, 288.




About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

12 responses to “I Feel Dumber Than A Stump”

  1. Greg says:

    Jay just to set the record straight you are in a cohort of stumps 🙂 I hate to admit how many of those books I have read. I sure picking them up in a bookstore and looking through doesn’t count. It is good to be reminded of those books that critical to our growth. It challenges me to understand them in ways that I haven’t thought of before.

    Loved your suggestion that in a digital age there should be an additional chapter on how to read from an app or kindle. As we all know there are definite disadvantages to ebooks. One is that I like to underline with a pen or now I want to react in words to the author. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Jay Forseth says:

      You are a good man, Greg. Thanks for your comments about Kindle. I try to use some of the tools of underlining and highlighting, but it just seems to fall short of the actual experience of laying down some lead onto the pages…

  2. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Thanks, Jay. This was well written and thoughtful. I didn’t read the chapter of the book that talks about reading the Bible (no shiny star for this pastor!) but I loved your reflextion on that section.

    You hit on a very practical point at the end. I have a love/hate relationship with kindle. I hate it because I like holding a real book and turning a physical page, and flipping back and forth between sections. But I love my kindle because I can take hundreds of books with me wherever I go, I can highlight and make notes and then find all of those things in one easy place, and I can do things like search for certain words (which is helpful when identifying “terms” like Adler talks about). And of course, EBooks are much more environmentally friendly and they can be delivered in seconds rather than days. You mention the challenges you have with eBooks. Is there anything you like about them? Will you be using them in your research?

  3. Jay Forseth says:

    Yes, Jenn, I will use some ebooks in my research, but if you don’t mind me being honest, probably because they are cheaper than hard print (grin).

    I am growing in my appreciation for Kindle, but admit it has taken some time…

  4. Kyle Chalko says:

    Jay !

    Great point about the kindle. I often feel like I can’t “grasp” the larger ideas of a book because i can’t visually / physically flip through it.i have many times wished I was reading a real book instead of a kindle. I wonder if this is just psychological or actually limiting.

    Great summary in your post. He purpose of Reading is to understand. Reading just for readings sake is wasteful. It’s like eating those rice wafers which are technically food so your technically eating but it’s really not doing anything for you. Or reading some types of pop-fiction perhaps would be like eating candy. We do it because it feels good but there’s no real substance there.

  5. Jay,

    Like you, I’ve read very few of the 137 books listed in Appendix A. Don’t let that dismay you! I don’t think there are many people in the world who could say they’ve read that list.

    Perhaps that’s the reason for the next book on our reading list: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. 😉

    I think when Adler encourages syntopical reading, he is really urging us to consider not just the message of one book, but how its fit within the spectrum of books opining on the same topic. As you dig deep into your analysis of Dave Ramsey and the effectiveness of his training with your dissertation, you will uncover many authors’ perspectives. Your sorting all that out will become a syntopical overview of his work.

  6. M Webb says:

    Mr. Stump,

    Stumps have a lot of practical uses, like this book you reviewed. You can sit on a stump like a chair, eat or read on a stump like a table, stand on a stump like a step-stool, and aim your rifle on a stump at your next big game animal for the freezer!

    Like you, I appreciated their section on how to approach theology, how to read Canonical books, and especially their reference to faith needed to read the Word of God. Amen!

    Paul said “mustard seed” but I think stump’s have right perspective on faith to move the dissertation mountain too!

    Stand firm Stump!

    M. Webb

    • Trisha Welstad says:

      Jay and Mike, you are cracking me up! Just the phrase ‘dumber than a stump’ makes me chuckle. That said, your stumpness gives you a humble perspective from which to begin. I appreciate your honesty and am sure you have the general sense of all the content in those chick flicks, especially the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice because they basically do a word for word screenplay on the whole book.

      Truly Jay, you have the tools to do the work of a doctoral program. You can do the first three levels of reading as demonstrated here and beyond. The fourth level seems to be more of a researchers journey, and with a good question, your desire to understand and not waste time, you will plowing through books with no problem. I am interested to hear what you are thinking on for your topic of study.

  7. Hey Jay,
    I loved your candor and honesty in your post, and by the way, you are far from being dumber than a stump. Your love for God and people was tremendously evident during our time in Cape Town and I was blessed by my interaction with you and watching you with others. To be honest, I think you have read more books on the list than I have, so I’m not sure what that makes me…maybe dumber than the dirt the stump is in :-). I also loved the point you brought out about the importance of understanding when reading since that was a highlight of the book for me as well.

  8. Jason Turbeville says:

    Far from a stump, you strike me as an oak, a tall strong, able to withstand the storm, oak. That being said, I have know many people who are “book” smart, who have read many of the books in the list, that I would not trust my life, friendship or certainly soul with. As long as we are striving to understand what we read and to connect with the author, even if we disagree with what we read, we can respect the point of view.

    I love your heart my man and am glad to be with you along for the ride!


  9. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, first, not only do I know believe you to be “dumb as a stump”, but I do believe you to be very pure-hearted. The points you brought out demonstrate that it is very difficult for, especially scholars, not to have an agenda when we begin reading. I agree that we need to be open to what we are reading before we become to analytical and aggressive against it. I know that I have a desire to learn, to absorb, and to even allow myself to be changed, but I also have a stubborn streak that I compete with on a daily basis. I believe we all struggle with what is written if it “steps on our toes” in the process, and at that point can become an opponent of the text rather than a cohort to it. Perhaps this is something our professor will get to help me with along the way.

    You also commented about the way we read the Word of God. I actually wanted the authors to talk more about this and felt as though they cut that section short; perhaps that’s just the preacher in me. I have never felt that it was a struggle reading the bible, just a struggle to understand it correctly. I never worry about disappointing family or the church, but I definitely worry about disappointing God; I mean to the point of going over my sermons in my head even after I preached it, making sure that every word came out the way I thought it was intended. To be honest…it can stress a preacher out sometimes; but it’s well worth the effort.

    Great post!

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