Stop Reading So Many Books

I think it’s fairly obvious you’re reading too many books. They pile up on your shelves without rhyme or reason, they’re all over your house, and anything else with words in it, magazines, manuals, postcards, they’re gathering dust in the corner. I think it’s a mixture of option paralysis and shame. Good old shame. Anyway, I have a solution for you, stop reading books. Or at least, stop giving your full attention to books that don’t demand it.

Books that demand your attention

Here’s how to tell if a book demands your attention. It’ll have a few things going for it, an index, a table of contents, and an introduction and a conclusion. And I’m talking about proper introductions, too, written by the author and clearly defined with clever titles like, “Introduction” and “Conclusion”. “Epilogue” is not a good substitution. A book that has these three things has some respect for your intelligence. A book like this is going to let you know whether or not it’s worth your time, whether or not it can demand your attention.

This is the thing: when you’re reading a non-fiction book you’re doing it to solve a problem. You might not know how to do something, you might have an interest in a particular field, you may want to bolster your skills, you might want to win a bet. You need a solution. You’ve come to a book for answer. Do yourself a favor, don’t read the whole thing. Don’t even read half of it, just read three things: the index, the table of contents, and the introduction and conclusion.

The three attention filters

The index, the table of contents, and the introduction and conclusion are filters that will help you learn if a book can demand your attention. Flip through the index. If you already know a little about the subject there should be some names you recognize in there. There should be some subjects there that, at the very best, excite you, and, at least have you noting the pages they appear on. The table of contents, on the other hand, should definitely excite you. No kidding. That table of contents should absolutely thrill you and if it doesn’t I might just put it down right there. It’s the outline of the whole book. If the basic structure is boring and useless no amount of delightful prose will save it.

With the first two filters out of the way you’re in luck. You’re either about to finish that book in half an hour to an hour and come away smarter and better off or, maybe, start a relationship with a book and an author that will change your life. But get ready, I’ve got some pretty radical advice here: Don’t read that book! Read the introduction — at first. The introduction should 1.) let you know that it will solve the problem you have and 2.) let you know about a whole host of other problems you didn’t know you have. The second point is pretty crucial. If it’s not met I wonder if your problem can’t be just solved in ten minutes on the internet.

And you’re done reading

Now, read the conclusion and you’re done. Maybe. You do not have to read the rest of that book. If you want to read the rest of the book at this point you may. In fact, if you do want to continue I suspect it’s because you’ve found a great book. The kind of book that’s going to change your life. Do keep reading this one. Of course, it’s more likely that you don’t need to read any further and your problem is solved. You may, like me, find this slightly depressing, looking at rows of shelves of books and realizing 90% of them can be read in half an hour, but it’s a sad fact that most books are crap. You’ve solved your problem but now you’re a realist. Out of the frying pan into the fire, I guess.

Please try not to read anymore books than you have to. Read the index, table of contents, and introduction and conclusion of non-fiction books, in that order. You won’t be missing out. Most books aren’t worth reading. Save your time for the best ones.

2 responses to “Stop Reading So Many Books”

  1. I am glad to hear that the ten non-fiction web-related (library) books on our dining room table with page numbers totaling 5059 will only take you five hours to read. I was wondering if I was ever going to see you again. Let me know if any are going to change your life. I am hoping that if there is one in the stack, it’s the 195 pager not the 1019 paged doorstop.

    A friendly reminder to book lovers everywhere: you can’t kiss your sweetheart with a book in front of your face!

  2. Don’t worry, I haven’t finished a single one. Only Jakob Nielsen’s Internet Usability manifesto came close. And now, kisses!

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