I’ve recently been bombarded by ads about blinkist on the Internet, an app that provides summaries for books in the self-help, productivity and business domain. The ads promise that blinkist will allow me to “read” hundreds of books very quickly by giving me a summary of the books to read instead of the books themselves.
It’s a sort of a cliff-notes for non-fiction. While the idea may sound interesting, I do not believe that it can replace reading the actual books. The subscriptions they offer, I believe they start at about $80 per year, may seem cheap compared to buying many books, but they just doesn’t offer the same benefits as reading the full text of books.
A book can’t be reduced to a summary a few pages long. To really understand a book, you need to read it in full. There are many books in my digital library that are full of highlights, notes and other annotations. This process of interacting with the full text of a book allows me to get the most out of the reading experience.
I cannot imagine myself reading summaries for all the books in my library and considering that a replacement for the actual books. Of course, every now and then, I find books whose entire message can be summarized in a few pages — but these books are the exception rather than the rule. Those are the books that I regret buying, they contain too much fluff and too little substance — which is why they can be summarized in a few pages without any loss of information.
Setting aside my opinion about the need to read entire books to get the most out of them, or that reading is an interactive process that involves more than just passive reading but includes, among other things, taking notes, highlighting passages in the book and so on. There is also the problem of trusting someone else to read a book and provide a summary for you.
What if their reading of the book is biased by political views? Or what if they do not correctly summarize the most important content of a book because they do not fully grasp it? Outsourcing the understanding of books, which is essentially what blinkist allows you to do, seems to be the hight of intellectual laziness to me.
If blinkist has any role in the reading process, it is probably to allow you to judge whether or not to buy the books it summarizes. You can consider it a more advanced version of the summary present on the back of any book. Use it to judge whether or not you would be interested in buying the book.
But if you choose to go this route, realize that you are essentially paying for a summary service in addition to paying for the books that you do decide to buy. Whether or not this is worth it for you, is a personal decision that you need to make yourself.
I, for one, do not think that adding another subscription to my many existing subscriptions just to judge the quality of books before I buy them is worth it. But, again, this is a personal opinion. You will have to make this decision for yourself.