Reflecting on the title of our first book, How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, my hope was to find some practical tools that would provide an efficient mechanism to get through all the anticipated, required, and copious reading. While I enjoy reading, articulating main points comes with laborious effort because of my desire to prove that I know what I read. To my surprise, the book offered no hands-on tools, only a theoretical understanding and new orientation of what it means to have conversation around books that are UB (unknown books), SB (skimmed books), HB (heard about books), and FB (forgotten books). The surprise soon moved to being enthralled. According to Bayard, the purpose of reading does not lie in the ability to articulate details, even main ideas at times, but rather the opening up of dialogue that brings wisdom with how ideas connect to one another from our own world to another. In this new perspective, I discovered a freedom that changes how I think and approach reading.
The freedom comes in the way of expression with others as Bayard articulates through his stories that have been UB, SB, HB, and even, FB. I love books, always have. Yet can I remember them all? Do I have time to read them all? No. For books I’ve read, it is embarrassing to not be able to recall the points by the author, a quick damper to conversation about the book. But for whatever reason the book was appealing in the first place – the title, the cover, the topic, the author – I now have the freedom to talk about them even when I haven’t read them in their entirety. Rather than specific details to prove what I’ve read, I can bring to mind how it impacted me emotionally, spiritually, and mentally which opens up dialogue for creative expression.
My only fear in this new freedom of speaking about something conceptually without all the specifics relates to humility. Unless non-reading is offered in humility, it can become the very violence that Bayard speaks about when someone knows all the details about a book. I tested Bayard’s theory the other day when someone asked me about the authorship of Hebrews. While I know bits and pieces, such as it’s not conclusive who the author is, I still ventured out to offer my own theory from my “inner library” that there may have been a multitude of contributors with Paul overseeing it all. My friend who is an avid scholar, but not necessarily a biblical one, looked at me a bit skewed since I’m typically not one to so confidently offer an idea. Two thoughts went through my head at that moment. First, I enjoyed having something to offer in the way of conversation. Simultaneously, I assumed I “failed” in my experiment with his skeptical expression. Only when he emailed me later about an email he sent to a couple of biblical scholars, that is when I realized the true purpose of talking about books you haven’t read, or consider myself an expert. My discovery in that experiment refreshingly opened up conversation, not only for myself but for my friend’s circle. While I hope to hold onto a humility in being honest about not knowing everything, I also hope to continue the conversation.
With Bayard’s book, I am grateful for this platform by which to approach the rest of the doctorate program with the DMINLGP. While laughing through most of the book, I found Bayard’s sardonic approach to conversation around non-reading opening up pathways for me. With confidence, I can speak about non-read books because it involves more than simply comprehending the main ideas, it’s how the material relates to my own world and then to someone else’s world. The paradox of reading (or non-reading) reflects that what I begin to understand affects me as much as I affect it. I would even go so far as to say that what occurs transcends the book: it changes me. That’s why I’ve always believed that we don’t find books, they find us.
What better way to start a doctorate program than to be open to what will engage my heart and head, whether it’s through reading (or non-reading), dialogues, writing papers, and/or community involvement. I ended the book with a sense of new freedom in how to negotiate all the material we will handle over the next three years+. The idea that “the discussion of unread books places us at the heart of the creative process, by leading us back to its source…find[ing] the strength to invent his own text.” Pg. 180 Perhaps I did receive some hands-on tools I never knew I needed.
As for Rowntree, I have used much of his material not only for my own education but for the students I teach. The traditional SQ3R is a good reminder of how to approach anything – reading, lecture, conversation. What was the most helpful this time around was the specific tool of how to read by increasing the size of the recognition span. While I’ve been a relatively fast reader most of my life, the actual tool of looking at phrases somehow disciplines my brain a bit more.