I can’t say that I have always enjoyed reading, especially those books outside of genres that most capture my interests and attention. Looking back, I must honestly admit that I haven’t truly read any textbook or novel in its entirety. Despite this admission, I have been able to effectively gain the knowledge needed through my “non-reading” process, and my learning objectives have always been met. Bayard’s book, How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read , provides examples of renown and scholarly people who engage with books but don’t actually read them. His argument provides justification and a defense for not reading books. The thesis presented is that “the notion of the book that has been read is ambiguous.” Non-reading is still engaging with the book, just not getting so involved in the details that one becomes too distracted to take away meaningful knowledge nor to engage with multiple sources.
I had expected Bayard’s book to provide detailed techniques for quickly and easily digesting information without reading. Instead, he outlined the concepts and theories that support non-reading. I found myself engaged by Bayard, and could easily relate to and connect with his stories. It was this connection that caused me to step back and evaluate my own process for acquiring knowledge. How did I gain the ability and knowledge for non-reading? Is this a learned trait, and why does it come more easily for some people versus others who struggle in the details?
Professor Derek Rowntree’s book, Learn How to Study , provides strategies and tactics that one can use to improve their organizational skills and study habits. Part of his approach uses SQ3R, which is a formula that teaches one to quickly glean the main ideas from a book. His is an actionable approach, as he provides strategies that have been learned and used by many successful scholars. In today’s learning environment, students must adapt their habits and study approaches in order to more effectively multitask and process the large amounts of information that they encounter.
As I more deeply analyzed my own processes for reading and learning, I realized that many of the concepts and techniques discussed by Rowntree and Bayard have been taught to me through exposure and education over time. I also believe that my specific learning style contributes to my natural abilities in this area. My husband often teases me about the fact that I never fully read books, and he was a bit concerned when both of our children told him that they never read any of their books for school. He couldn’t figure out how they got good grades without reading. As an adult student, my husband struggled with the vast amount of reading he was required to complete in seminary. He signed up for a speed-reading course that taught the same techniques as presented by Rowntree. These techniques greatly improved his ability to complete his assignments, and also improved his comprehension of the concepts. He finally understood that one truly gains more knowledge by stepping back first, and understanding the broader picture. Bayard’s claim is true that skimming books without reading them doesn’t prevent one from commenting on them; rather it helps them to glean the important ideas and avoid getting lost in the details. Non-reading allows us to digest the information and to evaluate and consider the information presented. Who is the better reader…the person who engages a book in depth and doesn’t digest the author’s meaning, or the one who skims and takes away the key concepts and points? Our knowledge should be gained across the totality of resources, and we shouldn’t base our opinions and views on limited sources. Rather, we need to keep a broad perspective and guard against getting lost in the details.
In Bayard’s book, he also concluded that other people’s views are often a prerequisite of forming your own views. I agree that hearing and exposing oneself to multiple views and a broader base of knowledge is a healthy approach to open our minds and to increase awareness. In reality, everyone bases their opinions and beliefs on their worldview and understanding. This comes from one’s environment and exposure to people and situations. After reflecting on Bayard’s comments, I began to consider how this impacts my study of the Bible and understanding of Christ. I am always cautious of blindly relying on other people’s opinions, especially from a theological stance. I conclude that non-reading is certainly a valuable skill, and without it I would not be able to gain breadth and depth of knowledge. There is no doubt that it is a skill that contributes greatly to one’s academic prowess and literacy level. However, I argue that there are times when one should slow down and engage with the details of a specific book, such as the Bible. In my own experience, despite caution, I have been influenced by other’s theological opinions too easily because I wasn’t familiar enough with the details. I now try to take a more balanced approach in my study of the Bible, which is to engage first through non-reading techniques…but then to ensure that I am closely engaging with the details through prayer and time spent directly in the Word. My opinion is that Scripture is the one exception to Bayard’s claims, and it should be studied in both the broad and detailed levels.
This week’s reading assignments are appropriate as we dive into the work necessary for completing a doctoral degree. It is helpful to step back and place focus on the intended outcome versus getting too entrenched in the details of each assignment. It is always better to look first at the larger picture and then to structure information into smaller, more meaningful pieces. We should focus on the learning objectives, or “the spirit of the law versus the law itself”. A key message that I took away from this week’s reading is to “avoid getting stuck in the weeds”.
 Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2009).
 Derek Rowntree, Learn How to Study (London: Time Warner Paperbacks, 2002).