Nobody doubts the importance of reading. If anything, it seems that the need to read has been possibly overstated.
For instance, Bill Gates reads a book a week despite his busy schedule. He even makes his own notes, which are publicly available. Warren Buffett goes one step further. When asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of nearby books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day.”
Buffett goes on to explain:
“That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
Buffet makes a good point, yet I don’t think most of us can spare the time to read daily, much less to the tune of 500 pages.
Could book summaries be the answer then?
The Limitations Of Book Summaries
Book summaries definitely save us time, but there are obvious limitations.
For starters, it is impossible to condense the wisdom of an entire book into a couple of pages. The nature of a book summary dictates that only the bare necessities are retained while the other parts of the book are scrapped. This means that summaries inadvertently remove sophistication and nuances that are commonly found in denser books.
More importantly, we run the risk of missing out on crucial ideas. This happens even if one reads a summary written by the most conscientious writer because we intuitively dismiss ideas that we deem either are inconsequential or too commonplace. The net result is that book summaries don’t share with us the complete ideas found in each book. As Derek Sivers put it: what’s obvious to you may be amazing to others.
It’s hence with caution that I read book summaries. But after experimenting with the Blinkist book summary app, I’ve realised how powerful a tool it can be for learning.
The Type Of Information We Consume
Most of us can’t seem to find the time to read. It’s surprising since research has shown that we spend less time on paid work than ever before.
Much of it can be attributed to our modern lifestyles. We no longer have large blocks of uninterrupted time. In order to maintain our social and professional lives, we’ve tried to stay as plugged in as possible. The attempt to stay in touch with everything at once has led to a life characterised by “distractability, inner frenzy, and impatience”.
Besides withering our attention spans, our lifestyles have also seen us getting free time only in smaller periods. Consequently, we’ve substituted longer form content such as books for bite-sized pieces of information and novelty. It’s tweets, statuses, snaps, and photos that we bury ourselves in these days.
I don’t think there’s a solution to this problem, but we can take advantage of this with Blinkist. Book summaries may be limited, but are certainly a better alternative to the other bits of low quality information we consume. It certainly helps spark an interest in reading and may be the first step in building a reading habit.
Deciding Between Books
The second concern — other than the lack of time — is that we can’t find quality books to read. This is so, despite peak performers in every field making their reading lists publicly available. The gripe is that the books are not necessarily suitable for us: it might be an uninteresting genre, overly technical, or stylistically incompatible.
There’s probably no better way to find out than to actually read some part of the book. Blinkist allows you to do just that, without you having to commit all the requisite time. The most interesting anecdotes and important lessons are extracted from the book. If even the summary bores you, you can be sure that the book is indeed unsuitable for you.
Blinkist summaries also do a great job at filtering on a micro level. Books on certain topics such as productivity, leadership, and management are a dime a dozen. There’s only so many insights available between all these books. Skimming through points works wonderfully well here when you’ve already understood the material.
The icing on the cake is that Blinkist recommends related reads after you finish each summary. I find this particularly helpful in helping me identify books which I would be interested in if I’m reading up on a particular topic. You can find ideas which are close cousins, allowing you to build a better mental model of the subject you are learning.
Quite the helpful tool.
No summary can ever capture the full essence of a book. Reading will remain one of the most important activities around.
But book summary apps can still be an effective tool if used correctly. They can be easily integrated into your life without any substantial behavioural change on your part. For instance, those who dislike non-fiction can easily reap the benefits of such books without having to plough through the entire material. With audio summaries provided as well, it’s certainly convenient.
I see Blinkist as a useful tool that would be nice to have in my arsenal. Your mileage may vary, but it’s certainly worth experimenting.