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

Reading Rainbow

Written by: on October 11, 2018

I sneered at the idea of talking about books I never read.  I thought this was academically dishonest to at least not try to read all of the books assigned.  I have had trouble in some graduate level courses because I believed I had to really know my sources, and know what I was talking about.  I never thought of this as intellectual snobbery, but in many cases I actually wanted to know all the details of what I was studying.

Growing up, the library was one of my favorite places.  It was how I escaped from life’s ups and downs, and how I traversed the world.  I did not plan on working in a library as a career, but this is what I ended up doing. So in reading How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, by Pierre Bayard, I related to the librarian in Robert Musil’s novel, The Man Without Qualities, vol. 1, who never read the books themselves in the library, but only knows the titles and the table of contents of the books the library carries (Bayard 2007, 7).  I help people find information without understanding the content of the information I am finding.  I can discuss intelligently about many topics in electrical engineering, without understanding fully what I am talking about.  I know how to find things quickly because of how information is organized.  However, the danger in Bayard’s method is believing you know what you are talking about in terms of content, not just context.  I may understand the bearings within the books as a system, (Bayard 2007, 10), but I do not agree that the content is not important.  It really depends on why you are discussing the book.

Bayard book fits in with the philosophy of today’s society and how we live.  Many times, I read news snippets on my phone, only grasping the surface of what is actually going on.  Many have no need for the newspaper, because our phone or IPad gives us all of the information we need. Little do we realize in skimming information, we are relying on someone else to decide what is important for us to read, hear, and digest.  Although this method of discussing information is fine with most people, this method is also seeping into the church.  People are very comfortable talking about the Bible without reading it.  We speak in phrases and snippets from other preachers, and assume that context is a substitute for content.  We know what everyone has to say about the writing of Jesus, but do we fully understand how the context is indeed connected to the content?  I do understand that one can get lost in the contents of a book itself, such as the Bible, and lose the meaning, or the context, as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day.  Others did not know the content of the Scriptures, but believed in Jesus, the living Word. Bayard believes it is enough to listen to what others have to say about a book to discuss it (Bayard 2007, 32), but this is not true of the Bible.

The Bible is the one book that changes the reader as they read.  With the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is able to cut through the clutter of our lives.  It enriches the reader in a way deeper than any other book; its words are able to come back to you at the strangest times in the most appropriate situation. It is able to comfort like no other book.  It is able to fill you with hope, love, and peace.

I understand that Bayard’s book is done a little tongue in cheek.  Surely he wants people to buy his book and read his book on not reading.  The real issue is how we receive information today, and discuss the little we have read with great vigor and sometimes passionate opinions.  Perhaps Bayard’s methods are fine for those who attend dinner parties where they wish to appear well read and cultured.  However in the context of reading the Bible, we have to be sure these methods do not creep into Biblical study in a way that it diminishes the way the Word is able to work in our lives.

In general terms, I may be biased, having grown up reading and enjoying reading for so many years.  Perhaps it is time that I learn to read quicker, skimming, and listening to what others have to say about a book.  But I think about a book’s ability to transport me to another time and place; to make me feel emotions I do not want to feel, and even to correct false ideas that I have grown attached to. I am sure that I have forgotten a lot about the books I have read, but I believe that many of the books I have read, especially the Bible, have changed my life.  I do not think we can ever understand how our lives have been shaped by what we have read.

Finally, as to Bayard’s quote from Musil’s novel where the librarian is only concerned with the cataloging of books, I do not think this is true about most librarians, since even the most serious catalogers cannot resist diving into the content and reading a few books.


Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Bloomsbury, 2007.

About the Author


Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

10 responses to “Reading Rainbow”

  1. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great post, Mary! I appreciate your challenge to Bayard’s approach and agree completely about how it could negatively creep into the Church. I have a growing concern about so many I encounter who are Biblically illiterate.

    I am also grateful that you are able to speak from an informed librarian perspective. It added a different dimension to my thinking.

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thanks Tammy. I’m not really a librarian, although I work in the library, but I do respect all of the librarians I work with and all they do to help us find information. I hope we can figure out ways to help with Biblical literacy. I am just as concerned as you are about this problem. Prayerfully we can all make a difference.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Thanks for the post, Mary. I agree the times we live in can exasperate the notion that not reading is useful in all situations but as you have stated, that is not true. At the same time, I think what Bayard is getting at is that one cannot merely read everything they want mainly because of the time factor involved.

    As Adler pointed out there are some books we need to read slow and some we need to skim and some we don’t need to read at all but learn how to enter into dialogue with others and learn from them. I think we are all biases when it comes to the Bible because it is not just any other book, but the question for me and I will put it to you as well as what can we glean from Bayard to be able to use in discussing the Bible with people who haven’t read it? What is one key you are walking away with from that perspective?

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Mario, I do believe as I said in my post, that even in Biblical studies, we can get lost in reading the content of the Bible like the Pharisees did. They read the Scriptures so much but failed to recognize Jesus was the Messiah. One thing that tripped them up was that they thought Jesus was born in Nazareth, and having studied the Scriptures extensively, they knew the Messiah was not to come from Nazareth. That is an example where reading was not helpful. Those who believed were those who were less educated and believed in the “Living Word”, which they saw in the works Jesus did. I think Bayard has much we can use, but there is a balance to what he is saying. Thanks for the challenge!

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You are wise and insightful and your research skill set gives you great credibility to comment on this book. Like you, I would guess Bayard is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but one must exercise discretion to what level one should read a particular resource within one’s constellation of sources. One can skim even the Bible for macro views of extensive chunks of Scripture. But if one wants to truly know context and orthodox exegesis, one must read slowly and deeply. You among all people realize how unique the Bible is, a miraculous book among all books. In the midst of all our other required reading and systematic research, may we not neglect the reading and ruminating upon God’s word. Hopefully you are catching up on your rest and see you Monday, H

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    This is great, Mary. I appreciate your concern for biblical illiteracy. Shallowness and consumerism is a plague in our society and we must work to keep it out of the Church. Surely in our serious pursuit of Christ we should develop a love for the Bible. Of course we must read it for that love to grow and for it to change us. I know in my own devotional reading over the years I can see the progression from checking a quick passage off the list to a deeper love for the Word – working to understand the meta-narrative of Scripture as well as diving deeply into one or two phrases for some time. And like you, I cannot imagine life without reading thoroughly and I do not intend to give it up for books worth that kind of time. The Bible is at the top of that list.

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I love how you challenge this entire premise Mary. You are right, many people feel very comfortable commenting on the Bible without having the best “working knowledge” of the text. You are also right about the cultural trend to skim from headlines or Twitter.

    I wonder, what are the books, other than the Bible, we could agree need to be read “slowly”?

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Jacob, I can think of many books that we will not be able to read, simply because of time, especially in this course. Working with children and youth, I have had to skim books like the Twilight series, just to understand what the youth are talking about. I don’t think I need to read the book through and through to have an understanding.

  6. Thank you Mary for your perspective of about Bayard’s approach to reading and especially your reference to reading the bible, its unique that you write as a practicing librarian. I agree with you that you have to read the contents of the bible to be changed and transformed and indeed have to keep going back. We have to be careful not to loose it as we gain more knowledge and we have to put on the right filters not to loose focus on the most important need of constantly going back to The Word of God for refreshing and constantly reconnecting with our source.

  7. I’m with you on this Mary. As I read on, page after page, and yes, I did more than skim it, I was convinced he was writing this tongue in cheek. But I’m not sure. The irony is that Bayard is trying to persuade us to read–or not read a certain way to get the contents of books without reading. And yet he draws on examples from books that appear he actually has read.

    If you read my post you’ll see that I struggled a bit with his text. However, I know all is not lost and there is an art and science to getting the most out of books we haven’t read and some, not all, of his suggestions actually do work. Having said that I always preface my opinions with “I haven’t read the book, but skimming it tells me…., and the author’s premise is….. he/she rejects X because….” All that matters to me is that I know enough about a book to return to it if I need more details.

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