I like the sage advice found in self-help books. I dislike the fluff you have to wade through to get to the advice.

I understand that an author can’t take a good idea, slap it on a single page, and call it a book. What’s he going to do, print the big idea on the first page and leave the following 257 blank? Or repeat the same life-changing sentence on all 258 pages? Either way, it’s unlikely to be a bestseller.

And so, the fluff. Let me tell you about the rut I was in. Let me give some examples of ruts that others are in. Let me speculate about how such ruts come to be. Let me explain how I stumbled across a rut-filling idea. Let me tell how I attempted to apply it and failed. Let me reveal how I modified and refined the idea and made a second and third attempt using it to overcome the rut. As Bilbo Baggins sang, the road goes ever on and on.

At some point along the road, the author reveals what the big idea is — after which, the journey continues. Let me explain how the idea helped me. Let me explain how it helped my friends. Let me explain how it helped my Aunt Martha who was beyond help. Such books feel like they were printed using melatonin.

If you search for the title of a book and add the word synopsis (or summary) to it in the search window, you can find a number of sites that offer the book’s essence, its key points boiled down and free of fluff.

There are sites that charge you for this service (I’m looking at you, blinkist.com), but there are also some good ones that don’t.

James Clear (jamesclear.com/book-summaries) summarizes nonfiction books in “three sentences or less.” If that’s too concise for you, try the likes of Derek Sivers (sivers.org/book), who is a hero of mine. Or Nat Eliason (nateliason.com/notes). And there are others.

But, you say, what’s the fun in that? I want to read books for myself, not have someone tell me what they’re about.

I agree. There are plenty of nonfiction books worth reading, and I devour many of them cover to cover. But often I can tell from a synopsis how high the fluff ratio is going to be and gauge whether to invest time in actually reading a book or being satisfied with the summary.

At times, I do something similar with fiction. The Harry Potter novels? I read every word of every book. Same with The Lord of the Rings and Narnia. But when it came to the Twilight series and the Hunger Games, I barely made it through the first volume of each. To find out what happened in the rest of the Bella and Katniss books, I looked them up on Wikipedia and read the plot summaries. Some call this cheating. I call it judicious use of my reading time.


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