Cheating on my Reading List – Is Blinkist the Shortcut to Book Wisdom?
"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Joseph Addison
I am a big believer in reading. Reading expands the mind; it helps to connect the dots and form a greater picture of the world. Reading brought me to other cultures before I was able to travel. It took me on a journey through history like my very own time capsule.
I guess since my seventh birthday until today I must have read between 750 and 1000 books. I can’t remember most of them in detail, but just as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
My reading list is huge and it never stops growing. Every time I listen to a podcast or read an article or blogpost, there is at least one new book title I want to read. Currently my “to read” list on Goodreads is 159 items long and is still far from being complete.
As a high school student, I could easily read fifty or more books in a year. Now, balancing work, relationship, sports, blogging, and other pursuits of life, my annual book consumption is usually between twenty and thirty titles.
So at current pace, my reading list would keep me busy for another six years, without any new additions.
No surprise that I was intrigued when reading the promise of Germany-based subscription service Blinkist, to deliver the essence of hundreds of books in the form of summaries that can be read within fifteen minutes.
Why spend hours upon hours reading a 500-page-long non-fiction book if you could get the most valuable lessons straight-injected?
I dabbled a few days in the free version before signing up for a one-year premium subscription.
Blinkist currently offers three subscription types, a basic free membership that allows you to read one preselected book summary a day, a membership called "plus" for US$ 49.9 per year that allows you to read all book summaries and access them offline, and the premium subscription for US$ 79.9 with which you also have access to audio versions of the summaries and can directly transfer the summaries to your Amazon Kindle and sync your highlights to Evernote.
My main motivation for splurging and going all “premium” was the Kindle connection. As a new Kindle convert, I could hardly imagine regularly reading book summaries on my laptop or my phone. The price tag of almost US$ 80 seemed not cheap but not outrageous either, put in perspective to an average price of US$ 10-20 for a single title. The essence of hundreds of books for the price of five seems to be fair.
Blinkist is a fairly straightforward service: You open your account; you browse through their growing directory of summaries; you add to “your library” whatever you fancy, and then either read or listen to it straight from your browsing device.
If you opted for the premium subscription, you can also be sent a summary with a simple click to your Kindle. To do so you need to enable the Blinkist email address on your Kindle, as well as adding your Kindle email to your Blinkist account. Under settings/connected services, you also can further connect your Evernote account and turn whatever you highlight in the app straight into a note. That’s about it.
For my taste, the design of the Blinkist site is almost too simple. Under “discover” you browse titles sorted into seventeen categories from “Just added” to genres ranging from “Entrepreneurship & Small Business” to “Relationship & Parenting”. Alternatively, you can search for titles and authors.
Your own Library just has two tabs, “currently reading” and “finished”, and no other options to sort, filter, or arrange. Titles under both tabs are arranged in order of the time they were added or marked as read. I definitely missed further options, for example, creating my individual folder structure. I mainly used the Blinkist.com website; the functionality of the iPhone app is, however, fairly similar.
Anyway, the UX of the Blinkist website and app did not matter too much to me as I mainly browsed through the catalog, added everything that I found remotely interesting to my library, and sent it to my Kindle.
In the year I used Blinkist I downloaded a total of eighty book summaries to my Kindle, and so far I’ve read twenty-three of them.
A typical Blinkist book summary starts with a page about what to expect from Blinkist in general, then spends one to two Kindle screens on giving a high-level idea of what to expect from the particular summary (and the book), then come the actual “Blinks”, short chapters of one to three pages devoted to key concepts of the book, before wrapping up with a final summary and a suggestion for further reading.
The Blinkist book summaries are well-written, and for books that I previously read in full before, captured the main ideas fairly well. And still, reading Blinkist summaries of books left me empty and uninspired.
A good book can create those magic light bulb moments, when an idea suddenly unfolds and the excitement of the insight lights a fire inside of me. Blinkist’s “Blinks” -- maybe because the ideas are so stripped of their surroundings, maybe because they are not written in the language of the author, or maybe because you simply expect them, somehow, make big concepts feel trivial.
I wanted to like Blinkist because I believe that you can never read enough and because I know that there are far more great books out there than I can ever read. But using the service I felt as if I was cheating on my "to read" list and as if the time reading Blinks would be better spend reading an actual book.
If my year as a premium subscriber of Blinkist has taught me one thing, it is that I should not try to find a short-cut through my reading list, but instead choose whatever I read carefully. I am sure other people love the service and get a lot out of it. I, however, did not extend my subscription.
Just like with many things, it is quality not quantity that is most important. Or as philosopher Mortimer J. Adler puts it: “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”