Everyday, without fail, on Twitter I see ads for a service called Blinklist. Their pitch is that they take books, have someone read them, then they provide five minute summaries, in place of you having to work to you know read. Let’s just stop for a moment and think about some of the inherent issues:
- A five minute synopsis of a book is not reading a book.
- A five minute synopsis will provide slightly less insight then a well written review.
- Without putting in the time to read, or listen, to the whole book you will lack the context and nuance that goes with the major themes.
- Actually reading some 200 pages is like taking a semester long class vs listening to a TED talk. The TED talk will give you the major points but in a week it will be mostly forgotten. The class, on the other hand, may at times be repetitive or too much information but it’s drilling the facts into you in a way a 20 minute lecture couldn’t.
- Summarizing the major points of a book in five minutes is like cutting across the infield in a race. Sure it gets you to the finish faster but is that the real goal?
So why would someone want this fun sized summary?
From what I can tell, It comes down to this egregious false equivalence which I have heard parroted frequently over the past four or five years (not coincidentally around the time Medium became a dominant platform but that’s a post for another day). This line goes: Warren Buffet (or any smart/successful person) reads 500 books a year, therefore if you read 500 books a year you too will, somehow, be successful. This is of course problematic for many reasons not the least of which is the definition of success, which we are to assume is, in the example is Warren Buffett.
Indeed, it’s no secret that reading is good. There are tangible benefits that come with it at all ages, the more you do it the better, but the key to success is not simply cramming as many books as you possibly can as fast as possible. The path to success, even moderate success (whatever that looks like), is not well worn. There is no formula for success; good habits (reading being one of them) are certainly going to contribute to success but luck also plays a huge role. As does temperament, friendships, family, mental health, goals, and priorities just to name a few. If reading books made you rich and successful there would be a lot more millionaires in academia. This rather stupid line of argument is not only applied to reading, you see this sort of thing all the time: “10 things you need to stop doing to be successful”, “5 habits of insanely successful people”, “ALL successful people do this before 7 AM”… No they don’t! You get the picture.
There is an a particular emphasis being placed on reading in many of these posts which leads to demand for an app like Blinklist. This emphasis would normally be a good thing, but the well is being poisoned by misconstruing the inherent value of reading for readings sake. By making reading homework, a stepping stone, to become more like anomalistically successful person x it becomes a chore, something to check off daily until you hit that level of “objective success” which of course you never will.
Let’s stop treating reading like it’s a competitive sport. Just read books for the love of reading. If it takes a month or two or six to finish a book, that’s ok it’s not a race. If you don’t like a book put it down. If you can’t read listen to an audiobook. You get the point. Above all just chill and stop obsessing about the reading habits of celebrities.