When I was a child, I was fascinated by the book, Jimmy and the White Lie, by Bartholomew. The book is centered around Jimmy, who broke the neighbors window by sending a baseball through it. Instead of telling the truth, Jimmy decided to hide the truth, which turned into a white blob that got bigger and bigger as Jimmy kept his secret longer and longer. Jimmy tried to hide the blob in different areas of his house, but the white lie was finally too big to contain and he ended up telling his parents. When they all return from confessing to the neighbor what happened, Jimmy couldn’t find the white blob anywhere, for which he expressed his thanks to God.
As an adult, I think about this book often. So much about life feels like I am carrying around these things that just get bigger and bigger and I don’t know what to do with these blobs that just keep growing. Reading happens to be like that for me. I feel pressure to read the newest or latest best-selling book or self-help book or leadership book or beach read or just one more biography. The amount of books I haven’t read on my bookshelves is pretty close to the amount that I have. While I really enjoy reading, I feel this burden to hide my ever-growing stack of books that I haven’t read. In fact, I have actually moved them from rooms in my house to my office and back because I am overwhelmed with the pressure of those unread pages. Bartholomew was clearly on to something.
Last week, Adler taught me much about active reading. He reminded me, “We have shown that activity is the essence of good reading, and that the more active reading is, the better it is.” But coming into Bayard, I was apprehensive. If I can’t retain information well while skimming already, and I need practice doing active reading, how on God’s green earth can I talk about a book I haven’t read? What I found in Adler’s book, however, was freedom…and a plan.
“Musil’s librarian thus keeps himself from entering into the books under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of books – of all books – that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.”  I found freedom in Bayard’s notions that in order to by cultured readers, we actually have to aim for breadth of books read, rather than depth and when we can successfully do that, we can see how books relate to each other. In fact, he posits that, “Culture is above all a matter of orientation. Being cultivated is a matter not of having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books a s a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to the others.” The notion that all the unread books on my shelves need to be viewed in context of the ones that I have, gives me freedom from the burden of having to read all the books in one subject area to feel like I understand it. I don’t have to read every published item on how to be a leader before I can claim any knowledge on leadership theory or practice. In later chapters, Bayard takes that freedom one step further. “To liberate ourselves from the idea that the Other knows whether we’re lying – the Other being just as much ourselves – is thus one of the primary conditions for being able to talk about books with grace, whether we’ve read them or not.” He goes on to say, “As we see, the obligation to talk about unread books should not be experienced as something negative, a source of anxiety or remorse. To the person who knows how to experience it as positive, who manages to lift the burden of his guilt and pay attention to the potential of the concrete situation in which he finds himself, talking about unread books invites us into a realm of authentic creativity.”
Furthermore, between Bayard and Adler, I plan use my active skimming as a way to breeze through the unread books on my shelves. “Skimming books without actually reading them does not in any way prevent you from commenting on them. It’s even possible that this is the most efficient way to absorb books, respecting their inherent depth and richness without getting lost in the details.” The last few weeks have been leading me to recognize the freedom I have to let go. I have to let go of my ideas that every book needs to be read from cover to cover and with the utmost intention of hanging on every word. As Jimmy was freed from his white lie by openly admitting his mistake, I have been freed over the last two weeks from my need to meticulously read every single word in every book, to which I say, “Thanks be to God!”
 Bartholomew. Jimmy and the White Lie. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1976.
 Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and Charles Lincoln Van Doren. How to Read a Book. Touchstone hardcover edition. ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014) 328.
 Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, 1st U.S. ed. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2007). 7.
 Ibid, 8
 Ibid, 9.
 Ibid, 10.
 Ibid, 156.
 Ibid, 166.
 Ibid, 15.