DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Any Book That References “Groundhog Day” Has My Attention

Written by: on October 11, 2017

Seven short years ago, I threw my family of four into our Dodge mini-van and drove from Montana to Maine, and back again. Two teen-agers, our bird dog, a portable DVD player, and us crazy parents for 7752 miles! 26 United States later, people would ask my kids what their favorite part of the trip was.  Their response? Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania–the home of Punxsutawney Phil!  Not Mt. Rushmore, Gettysburg, or Niagara Falls. Not the Atlantic Ocean, Times Square, Boston Harbor, or any of our 5 Great Lakes. Their first response was without hesitation, “The home of that Groundhog that we see on TV on Groundhog Day.” Scandalous!

So, when I perused HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ by Pierre Bayard, and joyously discovered that halfway through his book he had a whole chapter kinda devoted to the movie GROUNDHOG DAY [1] starring Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil, I was hooked

Honestly, though, just the title “How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” is an attention grabber. I bet he sold a boatload of books just on the title alone. Then the author threw out concepts like “non-reading” and my attention was double grabbed. I have always wanted to imagine what it would  be like to  not read a book. It almost seemed like he was giving us permission to do so, or actually to not do so.

So, I choose today to zero in and talk about my favorite chapter, VIII, appropriately titled, “Encounters With Someone You Love.”  Using that pesky varmint and the laughable Bill Murray, Bayard throws out a line, “…the ideal way to seduce someone by speaking about books he or she loves without having read them yourself would be to bring time to a halt.” [2] Scandalous!

It never crossed my mind to do that. To seduce someone by trying to impress them about my special knowledge of reading the same book, while actually never reading it. Is that how people used to check compatibility before E-harmony gave us the modern ways–by what common books you read?  I obviously spent way too much time in college in the gym and away from the Library. If I would have known telling beautiful ladies that I read books like OLD YELLER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, and this might sweep them off their feet because they read the same books, I would have tried it over and over, with gusto.

Really, Bayard drove his point home to me that this dating technique might work because he said, and I quote, “Groundhog Day’s complex narrative device allows it to play out a fantasy of completion and transparency in which we see two individuals communicate about books, and thus about themselves.” [3] There they are, words like transparency, and communication. Now I know why this might have worked to charm my future wife–she absolutely loves transparency and communication!  Bayard nailed it on the head.

Now I totally understood why the reviews for this scholarly book actually read like the reviews from a popular novel. Our Lead Mentor Dr. Jason Clark recommended we look on Google Books before cracking the cover to check out the reviews. I did so, not just for my grade to go up, but for actual thought provoking reviews, and wowza, people were almost madly in love with the satire and comedy of this tongue-in-cheek book. “Mischievous, provocative, humorous” were stamped on the reviews. National Public Radio (NPR) even did an extensive story, for crying out loud. Evidently this book has captured national and international attention. A bunch of the reviews in goodreads were actually written in  Arabic. Now that surprised me. For some reason it never crossed my mind that this French author had the book printed in various languages. Do all authors do this? Mark Petersen, my fellow Elite LGP* Cohort brother, did you have your book translated into several languages?

I have to be a little honest, I didn’t recognize any of the other books referred to in the individual chapters. It would have made the other chapters come to more life if I would have had a better reference point. It’s not the author’s fault, I just didn’t connect quite as much as I would have liked. But that is okay, I still connected vicariously to the satire, especially with chapter titles like “Books You Have Skimmed” and “Books You Have Forgotten.”

I close with just one question, should I feel guilty about talking about books I haven’t read? Really, I feel like I was granted the opportunity to lie without being called a liar. This might lead to places I don’t want to go–like talking about movies I haven’t seen, or talking about places I have never been. (grin). This all makes me feel mysterious and more than a little bit shady…

 

[1] Groundhog Day (1993), directed by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell.

[2] Pierre Bayard. How to talk about books you haven’t read. (Bloomsbury Publishing, USA, 2007) Kindle Edition, Location 1356.

[3] Ibid., 1466.

About the Author

mm

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.

9 responses to “Any Book That References “Groundhog Day” Has My Attention”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,

    Groundhog Day has been a military aviation cult-type movie since it first arrived in the theaters. After deploying into many austere “Punxsutawney” time halting environments, I affirm your analogy. Bayard’s narrative theology on time, and your Groundhog Day theme, actually work in some strategic visioning principles.

    You are the second one to comment on “feeling guilty” about talking about a book you haven’t read. Conversely, I saw it as an opportunity to connect to the author’s theme, message, and audience, without compromising my integrity or the authors, and jointly advocate for others to put on the full armor of God. I’m sure this technique would only apply on a case by case basis. But since I will keep all the “other” books on the periphery, it will work for me at times. “How about some flap-jacks?”

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  2. I too loved the chapter on Groundhog Day and thought it was hilarious that your kids liked Punxsutawney, PA the best on your trip. I also think it was great that he used it to highlight where the quality of transparency fits in. I agree that this book was rather provocative and I found lots of reviews for the book as well and think it hit a chord with many readers and non-readers alike. I’m sure many us have felt guilty for talking about books we haven’t read, but now feel a little less so as a result of this book. Great post Jay!

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Jake, it was good to see both you and your educated Bride today on ZOOM. I am reminded of us talking together in Cape Town when you said some days you have 9 one hour appointments. Here you are with us at 7am and then you are making a difference with 9 people later that day. Wow. Keep the faith my Brother and keep writing and helping to make a difference…

  3. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    I hope that I always receive the gift of guilt if I lie. 🙂 I’m pretty sure that Bayard is not being held up to us as a moral giant, nor his book as a statement of Christian ethics. But I also don’t think I have to claim to have read a book that I haven’t read to make a referesnce to said book or to join in a conversation about said book. In other words, I think I can apply much of Bayard’s techniques without having to apply or even subscribe to his shady morals. What do you think?

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      I absolutely agree Jenn! We can take the “higher road” and be conscientious and full of integrity, while at the same time, gleaning what we need out of a book. I just wish I would have understood the French satire in this book, of which you get to live every day.

  4. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jay,
    I find your post to be delightful! You use great wit and humor as you write. I’m picturing your family vacation a bit like Chevy Chase’s Vacation! You make a comment at the end of your post about this same concept of skimming being used for other modes of communication/entertainment (ie. movies and travel). My response to that is why not? If we can inform ourselves in the same way to have an educated discussion, why not use the technique (although I would never lie about travel or actually seeing a movie – I would say “I am familiar with…” etc.) As I age, I am trying to find ways to be well informed, maximize use of time, and be intentional about my brain cell use. Bayard gives me permission and freedom to do all these things.

  5. Greg says:

    I am tempted to download that movie and watch it again. There is something magnetic about it…what I remember of the interaction between Bill Murray and his future love was the number of times he was slapped. That alone should have taught him there was a better way to discover who someone truly is.

    I too am drawn to the idea of being able to talk with people about books that I have perused. (is that a nice way of saying that I skimmed it?) I don’t think we have to lie rather we can talk about the areas we understand. I love to read Dickens and have read many books, but probably not the most famous. I have never read Christmas Carol. I have seen many different movie or TV interpretations of it that I can talk about the story. I reference it in conversations or sermons but I don’t feel like I am lying. If challenged I would admit it and discover that the person asking me probably hasn’t read it either.

    I will still look at you as a shady individual no matter what your library holds. Thanks for your thoughts on this book.

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