The case against (non-fiction) books
…and *for* alternatives that are better uses of self-improvement time
July 2015 UPDATE: I’ve come around to reading books again — I finally figured out how to read them in a way that works for me.
After internet searching on “alternatives to non-fiction books” I was surprised that I couldn’t easily find the line of thinking I’m about to share with you.
My hope is that this article can help people feel less burdened and eliminate the guilt about not reading “books,” and instead, more thoughtfully grow themselves by using what is freely and easily available (and shareable) online.
This is a blog post in progress. I welcome your comments and suggestions.
What I care about more than whether I read the next “must read” book, is the advancement of humanity’s knowledge.
Books are too long
To read a book that’s been recommended to me, I have to decide whether to buy it, or get it from the library… if it’s even available there.
Once I buy it (and if in paper, wait for it to get to me), I’m then confronted with a ~200 page monstrosity that I wonder how long it takes to wade through.
Why are books so long? It’s because of custom, or the market’s forces, not because there’s some magical length to effectively communicating ideas with 150-250 pages.
Moreover, most books are still published in paper format, killing trees.
Every time we buy books we are “voting” for this long-form, outdated, and inefficient way of communicating ideas.
(I do make exceptions, which I list at the end of this post.)
Let’s say a single book took you 20 hours to read.
Within that same time investment, you could have…
- watched 60 TED talks
- watched 20 well-rated and free documentaries, documentaries on youtube, or Edge.org videos
- participated in 20 thoughtful discussions (you learn more by writing and responding to others than you do by only consuming information.)
- explored 30 of the best mindmaps
- viewed 40 of the best slideshows
- read 40 in-depth book summaries
- (For any book recommended to you, there are likely several free online summaries of that book. Find just 5, learn the key points of the book without the fluff, and you’ll save many hours. Example: The Happiness Advantage action points summary. Or look for “book reviews.” You’ll get the additional perspective of the reviewer and commenters; example: All Your Worth.)
- read 40 featured articles on wikipedia
- studied 60 infographics
- read 100 blog posts recommended by friends or by medium.com
- listened to 25 recommended podcast episodes (my favorites here.)
…each of the above can be done in the same time used to read a book.
(Podcasts are my new favorite medium: you can listen to them while commuting, walking your dog, doing dishes, making a meal, gardening, etc. I usually enjoy 1-2 podcast episodes a day while doing routine activities. A great way to efficiently learn, and all for free.)
Chances are, the books you recommend aren’t being read…
When you recommend a book to me, I’m far less likely to read it, and therefore grow in knowledge, than when you recommend a blog post.
Similarly, when I recommend to friends to watch a great documentary freely available on Youtube, they’re more likely to watch it, be inspired and changed by it… than if I were to recommend a book.
(Note: when it comes to this free online media, I’m asking you to thoughtfully curate your own information consumption, rather than just consume whatever the mainstream media, or even Facebook news feed, serves you.)
The key is learning how to efficiently search
I’m continually shocked at how being able to smartly search the internet makes someone’s learning capabilities eons ahead of others.
The best way to increase your ability to learn is to practice searching the internet.
Any question, any challenge, any issue you have in your life or work, try searching on the web and over time, you’ll feel more and more empowered, knowing that just about all answers are findable online.
Learning happens through engagement
Your consciousness upgrades faster when you consume a greater variety of good information (just like food), and then engage with it by sharing or commenting.
(When you read a book, you cannot easily share or comment and therefore discuss the merits, and applications, of an idea.)
Growth happens through engagement, not just consumption of information, and freely available media such as blogs and videos makes it easier and more likely for people to engage and therefore grow their knowledge.
Even better is creating knowledge
When you have a big question in your life or work, why not begin writing a blog post about it to try to answer the question? This is what I did here in this very post.
And again, rather than referencing books, do your research primarily online by doing internet searches.
Create knowledge, then share it with others.
Do it with an open mind and heart, asking others to contribute their ideas and suggestions on how to make your content better.
Upgrading humanity’s knowledge faster
Finally, when you decide against reading a book in favor of the free online media options such as ones I’ve listed above, you will naturally recommend that which is worthwhile to your own network, further increasing humanity’s knowledge more quickly than if you had recommended a book (which they weren’t likely to read anyway!)
From now on, I’m shedding myself of all guilt for not reading the books I’ve collected over the years, and the ones yet un-bought that were recommended to me.
Instead, I will be advancing my knowledge, and that of humanity’s, more effectively by taking the time I would’ve spent reading books —or writing a book—to instead curate, consume, share, and create freely available online media.
I hope you’ll join me!
Exceptional & Proven By Time
Occasionally there are music albums worth listening to in their entirety. Similarly there are a few exceptional books that deserve to be read whole. These are typically older books, because the longer a book has continued to be read, the more it’s been vetted by humanity’s experience over time. Gratefully, many of these can be found online, for free:
- ManyBooks.net Most Popular Titles
- FeedBooks.com Most Popular Non-Fiction
- Project Gutenberg Top Public Domain eBooks
- More places to get free eBooks online
There are also innovative book projects that are taking the book beyond a one-way communication, into useful dialogue that creates better ideas than one person could figure out by himself. One example is Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits community book project.
Are there exceptional books you’d recommend reading in their entirety?
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