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

No Shame in Not Reading

Written by: on October 6, 2016

Now that we understand “How to Read a Book” we can learn how “Not to Read a Book” and still talk about it!!! What a time saver for poor, tired students! In “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” Pierre Bayard encourages us to learn why we strive for an image of cultural literacy. We need to come to grips with our motivation so that we can “survive the avalanche of fragments of books that threatens to engulf us..” (p. 120)


In spite of the opening quip, I believe that Bayard tried to convey some things about reading that were important to him. Part One – “Ways of Not Reading” is actually in Swiftian fashion a recounting of the ways that we actually handle books. We are “given permission” to read, skim, or glance at books. The important thing is that we remain true to ourselves by looking for what we want to get out of the book. Part Two – “Literary Confrontations” is very humorous, yet good advice is given when actually speaking to the author of a book, “…praise it without going into detail.” If you can’t even feel comfortable doing that then in Part Three – “Ways of Behaving” we are invited into the realm of “authentic creativity” (Bayard, p. 166). “For knowing how to speak with finesse about something with which we are unacquainted has value far beyond the realm of books” (Bayard, p. 184).

Bayard’s purpose is to encourage students to go beyond the mere reading of books to discover their own “inner book”. Bayard’s book was engaging and effective and I believe Bayard succeeded.


I’m sorry, Monsieur Bayard, but your book was too enjoyable and I read the whole thing!!

Here are some reflections:

  1. Page 31 – “… it is only by maintaining a reasonable distance from the book that we may be able to appreciate its true meaning.” This is a skill that I will need to work on. I still feel that I need to read a whole book, especially if the Professor has assigned it. Out of the thousands of books that Jason could assign, he chose this one. There’s a reason and unless I am truly overwhelmed with reading I will probably still read the whole book. This part ties in with Adler’s “Inspectional Reading”. One should decide whether the book “contains matter you still want to dig out, or whether it deserves no more of your time and attention.” (Adler, p. 35)
  2. Page 46 – “… the book is an undefined object that we can discuss only in imprecise terms, and object forever buffeted by our fantasies and illusions.”  While I am sure that there are many who consider the Bible to be a collection of myths, I don’t. And I believe that we can discuss God’s Word relying on its truth. I understand the gist of what Bayard is trying to say, but it doesn’t apply to every book.
  3. Page 82 – The “inner book”, an imaginary book, acts as a filter to us for what we may read. I think this point is really important. We all come to any book that we read with a set of presuppositions that were formed during our lives. Past experiences will influence what we remember or don’t remember when we read.
  4. Pages 109,110 –There were serious undertones in this otherwise witty book. Several times throughout Bayard’s book the importance of humility comes through. Though Bayard is humorous and borders on sarcasm in his illustrations, for me anyway, the importance of thinking of others comes through, even if in the end it is for selfish reasons. In “Groundhog Day” the character Phil “changes and loses his arrogance toward others.” When Phil becomes interested in others, “he himself becomes interesting, and he manages, through his kindness, to win Rita’s heart in a single day.” The lesson is learned and whether Bayard intended it or not, it is a Christian principle.

There are many more interesting points. I really enjoyed Bayard’s references to so many classics that I have read. And whether he would approve or not there are now one or two more that he covered (did he read them?) that I want to get, and yes, I will probably read in their entirety, just for the sheer pleasure of it!



About the Author

Mary Walker

14 responses to “No Shame in Not Reading”

  1. Lynda Gittens says:

    Hey Mary,
    I to feel I should read the book in its entirety or at least from the beginning to the end. I may skim through. With the volume of books, we have to read this module along with our research resources, how will you try to manage the time?

    • Mary Walker says:

      Well, Lynda, the rubber is about to meet the road. I have a pile of books to read for my paper and I will have to skim some of them. As for managing time, that will be hard and require some hard choices. I already don’t watch TV. What can I throw out next? You make a good point and I think it’s time to start practicing some of the things we’ve been talking about in our blogs and chats.

  2. Geoff Lee says:

    Very good summary Mary. I am with you in tending to want to read books in their entirety, however, I am already feeling a little swamped with the volume of material that I am trying to get my mind around, and the breadth of possible books within my area of research. These different books are giving us a framework for the different types of reading (and non-reading) required!

    • Mary Walker says:

      Thank you, Geoff. It’s time to start practicing discernment as we begin our research for our papers. It will be a new experience for me, but a valuable one for the next 3 years I’m sure.

  3. Mary I enjoyed your post and insights. In diving deeper into your second point “Page 46 – “… the book is an undefined object that we can discuss only in imprecise terms, and object forever buffeted by our fantasies and illusions.”

    I do believe when it comes to the Bible that we do not fully see it in its entirety even though we can read it cover to cover. I think Paul communicated that to us when he said “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…All that I know now is partial and incomplete” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT). It is the notion of the here and not yet. So I do agree with your point that the Bible is not a myth or even a fantasy but how we view this “puzzling reflections in a mirror” is a mystery. It is not quite clear but yet it will become clear to us. Therefore our discussion of the text has to be interconnected with revelation and understanding we receive from the Holy Spirit otherwise we are limited by our imperfection to only see “partially” or as Bayard said “imprecise terms”.

    • Mary Walker says:

      Thank you, Cristal. I agree entirely. In fact that is one of the things I love about the Bible. No matter how old I get there is always something to discover, something “new every morning”. God is so great that I don’t suppose even in Heaven we will be able to fathom Him!

    • mm Katy Lines says:

      I would add here, a reference to Chip’s comment on Stu’s post (!). That books “change” when we read them multiple times. Our own context and experience comes into play and we “see” the book differently. How often that occurs when I read a Psalm or Isaiah or Luke for the umpteenth time and discover the Holy Spirit bringing light to a new thing.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for this line of discussion. I think the part I struggle with the most would be with someone trying to apply Bayard’s principles when reading the Bible. Kristin mentions this is her post. Authorial intent is critical in biblical study. The intent of the author never changes, however, the intent has a certain width of application within the total context of the Scripture, therefore, something new every day. I’m Pentecostal, I like the part about the “Holy Spirit!”

  4. mm Katy Lines says:

    Mary– There remains a long queue of books on my bedside table and wish list that await my reading (start to finish); maybe when I graduate?!? 🙂

  5. Great quotes Mary, and I wondered the same thing, “Did he actually read the books he referenced?” Yes, witty and profound thoughts he presented that kept you engaged as a reader. With your wealth of knowledge and desire to read all the books assigned and retain the books you’ve read, it makes me want to read a book authored by you. If you could write a book what would it be about and who would be your audience?

    • Mary Walker says:

      Thank you, Jen. Well, I’ve thought about writing books many times. Thankfully, a lot of other women have already written the books I wanted to write! At first I was upset, but now I see that they had the time to write them and I will rejoice that there are so many – the more the better – and I will promote those books whenever I can! I think an autobiographical book might appear later. As my roommate you know some of the things we shared and I would love a chance to tell how good God is. Thank you for your encouragement!

  6. Really great analysis, Mary. Like you, I feel like I need to read books completely, especially if they are assigned. These books have helped me learn, however, how to pull the meat out of the books and move on. I’m beginning to realize that, if I read all of these books from cover to cover, I will never have time to do all of my research reading. I’m hoping my “inner book” will become developed well enough to take in the crucial points anyway!

  7. Mary Walker says:

    Thanks for the much needed encouragement at this time, Kristin. I know it’s what I need to do and as I survey the pile of books on my desk, I guess now is the time!!!

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