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

The Ignorant Baboon

Written by: on October 13, 2017

As I sit with a hot cup of tea, curled up on the couch with my computer (damn e-books) I am in the place and space I love most in the world.  To sit unimpeded by distractions of noise, children, work etc. and read……there is nothing better or more rare in my life.  And Pierre Bayard had the audacity to try and steal that from me.  Well screw him!  I am going to try to read his entire book and talk about it before I forget what I read.  I must, however, admit that even the writer of Ecclesiastes recognized the impossibility of reading all that was written, little did they know.  “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecc 12:12)  (Anyone else weary right now?) Today the proliferation of books, hard copy and electronic versions, is beyond measure.  It seems as though Bayard might have had this Hebrew Bible reference in mind as he was writing his own book.

For those of you who read Jay’s post or several of his responses to the posts of others last week, you would likely note his embarrassment at the limited number of ‘classics’ listed in Adler/Van Doren he had completed.  This week, however, Jay is off the hook.  Bayard astutely points out that if he, or any other knowledgable person, is able to place the unread book in its appropriate ‘location’ amongst other important texts he has every right and even a responsibility to discuss the text, though it remains unread on his shelf.  In fact later Bayard goes on to point out that as a result of the interplay of books amongst themselves it is in fact “the entire library that is called into play through each book….”.1  Therefore Jay, having read some of the books in the pantheon, and countless others that are in the library and thus have a connection with those that remain for him unread, brings as much to any discussion as someone who may have read the list in its entirety.

Yet, I myself must now confess to feeling both compelled to read every word of Bayard’s book and unable to do so in the requisite time.  Some of that compulsion is testament to my own unwillingness to relinquish my reverence for books and authors. (Sorry Jason) It was also a result of Bayard’s book being such an entertaining and interesting read.  No matter, now that I have read it I have forgotten most of it already and almost forgotten that I even read it.  Yet, I am hopeful that I will be able to discuss it astutely enough during our interactions to suitably impress you all with my knowledge and acumen.  If nothing else I hope that something of this reading has affected my own inner book and that possibly this growth will help me connect better with others with whom I share this experience.

Yet for all its encouragement and seeming purpose to free us from self imposed reticence to discuss texts which we have possibly only encountered cursorily, Bayard utilizes intricate textual examples which communicate that he is very widely read and even seems to thoroughly recall most of what he has read.  Thus, though his premise is strong and he eruditely communicates his thoughts, for me his method undermines it all, serving only to compel me to take better notes. (Even if they are notes written inside the back cover reminding me that I actually did read this particular book at one time.)

I must admit to feeling some discouragement as a result of this book, though I also recognize the truth that it has revealed.  My retention of books that supposedly have been influential in my life is tentative at best.  Sadly, I must admit that Bayard is correct when he writes; “What we preserve of the books we read—whether we take notes or not, and even if we sincerely believe we remember them faithfully—is in truth no more than a few fragments afloat, like so many islands, on an ocean of oblivion.”2  Though there is no clear means of measuring such I remain hopeful that these influential texts have somehow written themselves irreducibly on my own inner book.

Further, as we launch into a rather long and expensive journey toward writing a dissertation and obtaining the desired letters of note after our name, we will be reading countless texts, articles, blogs, studies and other writings.  Yet; “we should perhaps use the term un-reading rather than reading to characterize the unceasing sweep of our forgetfulness.”3  This is a rather discouraging thought which raises the question whether or not we will retain anything of even our own dissertation six months after completion.  (Someone please remind me why I am spending all this money on a D Min?)

The activity required to be a non-reader does serve to reduce some of the guilt associated with feeling like an ignorant baboon and the ancient words of the reference in Ecclesiastes helps some, but I can’t help feeling, as widely read as I might be, that somehow I don’t measure up.  That is my problem and part of my own inner book that will interact with the words that I read and the ensuing discussions with all of you.  In the meantime, I am going to enjoy this cup of tea and the remaining chapters of Bayard while I still have time and a little bit of quiet.

1Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Kindle Locations 1527-1528). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

2Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Kindle Locations 798-799). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

3Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Kindle Location 828). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

About the Author


Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping young people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

13 responses to “The Ignorant Baboon”

  1. Shawn Hart says:

    Dan, in your defense, we passed some baboons on the side of the road in South Africa, and not one of them had a book in their hand; therefore, I believe you are smarter than a baboon.

    I think I have always shared Solomon’s view of study in regard to the weariness factor. Though I have read a number of books cover to cover, the reality is, rarely have I actually enjoyed doing it. I have always been a skimmer because I felt that, even for scholarship, too much reading was just a waste of my time. In fact, unless the topic or story is completely engrossing to me, I usually tend to lose interest, and eventually give up on the book.

    I fear this is the struggle I had with agreeing with this book and yet, disagreeing with it. On one level the need to grasp what I am reading for the benefit of scholarship and dissertation seems to me to be more than just a “skimming” offense. However, for time and actual interest in all that is written in the books I’ve enlisted so far, I cannot imagine suffering through every page of all of these books.

    Good post

  2. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Dan. great post. I love your reference to Ecclesiastes. Such an important reminder as much our life to going to be revolving around studying, and writing for the next few years. Sometimes I feel like the writer of Ecclesiastes feel like it’s all “Vanity!”

    The issue of retention is frustrating. We only keep of a book what we retain, and it we retain hardly anything its like we hardly read it.

    But I also think that sometimes a book can nourish us in certain ways even if we don’t quite recall what we are retaining. An incomplete analogy might be that of consuming food. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast 3 weeks ago, let alone 3 days ago, but I remember that is nourished me. I think there might be some truth to this in regard to reading.

  3. mm Jean Ollis says:

    I can totally relate to the tranquility factor which comes with curling up on the couch with a warm drink, and a great piece of literature. I think the key for me is “a great piece of literature”. While I can understand the avid readers recoil when Bayard encourages non-reading, I also find there aren’t that many books that captivate my interest. If the book isn’t quality reading, I’ll have no problem skimming, but if it’s full of great information I’m going to retain my cover to cover reading. I’m excited to hear about your research interest…

  4. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hey Dan,

    I think you are channeling a lot of us in the group with this post. We are trying to trust Dr. Clark and others that this way of reading, or “un-reading”, but it isn’t easy. Keep sipping the tea, asking these questions, and reading, my friend!

  5. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    I too noted that Bayard was very well read as I encountered his text. I was almost annoyed with the fact that he was so brilliant about talking about books and then writes how he had read, not read or completely forgotten the ones he had referenced. The challenge to retain content seems to be the most difficult. That said, what do you think was most valuable content from Bayard’s writing? Were there any chapters or particular principles that stood out to you?

  6. Greg says:

    You may get the click bait of the week award with your title; unless you are calling those that click on it “ignorant baboons”. I might be offended, I will decide later.
    Dan I love how you discuss a book, act like you haven’t read it and criticize it all at the same time. I also found it interesting that he discussed not reading but giving examples that he read. I too love a good book, coffee (or tea) and quiet. I will admit that those times and reading for my Dmin dissertation might not in the same dream. I have to separate the books that I want to read and spend time with and those that I need as a resource. I think we will treat them differently, read them differently and be able to speak communally about them differently. Thanks for your blog.

  7. It appears you remembered plenty of the book to not sound like a baboon and your value and enjoyment for reading kind of gives you away as a reader more than a non-reader. Although I know Bayard would say we all end up un-reading books eventually because our memories get shot, especially mine these days. I like the idea you touched on that we all have an inner book that is being written by all the information being downloaded in our brains and my prayer is that that information will be recalled when needed the most. Great post Dan and hope you enjoyed your tea!

  8. Mark Petersen says:


    Wonderful post, beautifully written. Thanks.

    I noticed we used the same Bayard quote, the one about losing your learning in the ocean of oblivion. And then you mentioned the writer of Ecclesiastes. It makes me wonder if all is meaningless. I sure hope not because we could do something else with our DMin investment. 😉

    My perspective is that we may forget the details of what we read, and indeed, even that we have read a book. But somehow, we are changed by reading. This enrichment (if it’s worth reading) must shape us going forward.

  9. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    As I read your discussion on Bayard’s book one thing popped in my head, No Fair! Dan gets a quiet place to read and write. As I am writing this my house is a cacophony of noise and questions from my twin 15 year olds and my wife getting ready to go on a trip. How much I would give to have quiet…By the way, great post the quote from Ecclesiastes was spot on. I feel I am going to be forgetting more than I remember of all the books we are reading over the next three years. I suppose I will have to take Bayard’s advice.

  10. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks Dan for your thoughtful and humorous post. You are a witty guy. I struggled with Bayard’s premise but didn’t bother to think that therefore I should read his book in it’s entirety. Well said. Have a great trip and see you on zoom next week!

  11. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dan,

    Is “off the hook” a good thing or a bad thing? You crack me up! After all we have been through as roommates…

    I very much appreciated the Ecclesiastes verse. I actually forgot that was in there, but am so glad you reminded us. “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecc 12:12).

    I realized today that I am not much of an academic. I don’t mind academics, in fact I kinda envy them. But I can understand Solomon saying there is weariness in much study. I am more of a practical person, and would rather be active in application, rather than endless discussion and thinking. This fact will probably cost me some points on my grade…

    Missed you on the call today. We will see you next week!

  12. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Dan–
    I enjoyed reading your post (glad the site is finally working again so I can comment in a timely manner!). I think we’re all struggling with the changing relationship with books, but also open to it as a necessary part of our studies. Bayard was definitely entertaining and fun, I’m glad you thought so too!

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