Read Non-Fiction in a Smarter Way With This Tool
Abby Weng, English Coach & Consultant
I know for a fact that some people visit Costco purely to enjoy a feast of tiny bites and sips; the samples are like tapas offered freely at almost every corner.
Personally, I don’t like to wait in line for a morsel of food, but even I will patiently stand in a queue if I’m interested in a product; I want to know if it is really as good as I imagine it to be before making the purchase.
Samples prevent us from wasting our resources
By getting a taste of what interests us before making the full commitment, we can spend our time, energy or money more wisely. Sampling is particularly important in the world of books — especially if English is your second language — because completing the reading usually takes a lot of hard work over days, weeks, and even months.
If you have a way to understand what you’re getting into before embarking on each journey, you are more likely to make choices you won’t regret; you’ll also be able to remind yourself of why you need to continue when you feel like quitting.
There are many ways to sample a book, but in particular, the one I’m going to tell you about in detail today is a service called Blinkist.
“Tapas” is a Spanish loanword.
Essentially, Tapas are small Spanish dishes that are frequently served at bars along with drinks.
Blinkist is an online service that creates high-quality book summaries
These summaries are known as “Blinks”, and each Blink is divided into multiple parts: the overview, a list of insights and the final summary. The topics are then expanded upon in short, easy-to-read paragraphs. Altogether, a Blink can be read or listened to in around 15 minutes.
The service was created by four friends who traded notes and book summaries with one another when they were still in school. After they graduated and entered the workforce, they were determined to continue learning, and eventually their effort resulted in Blinkist. The goal is to select great nonfiction books and to extract the important insights for users.
Blinkist offers an abundance of non-fiction genres, which you can check out here:
Biography & History
Management & Leadership
Productivity & Time Management
Motivation & Inspiration
Health & Fitness
Entrepreneurship & Small business
Money & Investments
Communication & Social Skills
Personal Growth & Self-Improvement
Relationship & Parenting
Marketing & Sales
Politics & Society.
Supposedly, you can save a lot of time by “reading” many books in a short period with Blinkist.
However, that’s not how I use it
I do not think the summaries can replace actual books. In my opinion, the best usage of Blinkist, in terms of learning English and learning in general, is to treat the Blinks like Costco samples — they give you a way to make wiser choices in your reading.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me help you sign up for an account so that you can understand what I’m talking about and try the service for yourself.
Even if you decide not to pay for the subscription, you can still maintain a free account that gives you one pre-selected Blink (which you can either read or listen to) each day.
Sign up for your free trial!
2) Enter your email and click on the Start Free Trial button
3) You’ll be taken to a page where you can select 3 interests. Click Continue after making your selection.
4) You’re in!
5) Check out the titles they recommend or search for your own. Then add the books to your library. Click on “Continue”.
6) Don’t forget to set your password.
7) Download the app if you want to use the service on your phone (you can only access the audio versions on your phone, so I recommend doing so).
8) Check your email and confirm your email address so they can send you their awesome newsletters. If you’re a bookworm, you’ll enjoy hearing from them.
The free trial gives you three days to explore the paid version of Blinkist, so make the most of it!
In terms of the paid subscription, there are 2 levels:
PLUS gives you access to all of the written summaries, which you can read offline.
PREMIUM gives you access to audio versions in addition to all that you get in Plus.
Now comes the important question…
When should you use this powerful tool? After going through many Blinks, I can tell you with confidence that Blinkist does a great job at summarizing books. The service is particularly suitable if you want to do the following:
1) Find out what an entire book is about
The official summaries offered by publishers are often designed to whet your appetite, so there’s a lot left to be desired. Blinks, by contrast, are designed to give you information.
If you are thinking about picking up a book, but you aren’t sure if it’s worth your time or energy, the Blinks can help you make a more informed decision.
I frequently use the service to weed out books that I’m interested in but uncertain about. To be precise: first, I go through the Blink if it’s available, then I either go to the bookstore to leaf through the book or get a digital sample from Amazon.If that’s still not enough, I may read a few more reviews before the final elimination.
Trust me: the little bit of extra time you spend on this investigation is worthwhile if you consider how much time you can waste in reading a poorly written or researched book.
2) Prepare yourself for a book you are about to read
Since Blinks give you an overview of a book, they can help you get familiar with the ideas of a book, so that you can focus on the details when you are actually reading it.
Having to read in English is already challenging enough, you can greatly reduce the difficulty by knowing some of the important concepts and terminology beforehand.
3) Train your ability to distill insight
You can use Blinkist to get better at reading comprehension by reading a book first and summarizing it yourself, then comparing your work with a Blink to see if you’ve missed anything important (or if you are really good: you can see if they have missed anything).
4) Quickly learn something about a topic
With the help of Blinkist, it’s possible to get a quick glimpse of a topic and rapidly learn something about it. Of course, what you can gain is limited, but given the amount of time you invest, you’ll get a lot of value in return and be able to determine if you want to continue pursuing a topic or a particular book.
5) Discover new books
I really like the discovery feature of Blinkist, and I’m always looking forward to their newsletters delivered via email because they give me a chance to get exposed to new books.
There are times when Blinkist isn’t enough
The summary of a book is no replacement for the actual book (if it’s indeed a good one). You can understand this easily by thinking of a similar situation: reading about the plot of a movie on IMDB can never substitute the actual movie, right?
If your intention is to understand something deeply then you should read the book after you finish a Blink because only full-length books can give you the detailed examples that will help you make sense of the insights Blinkist has extracted for you.
Learning anything profound requires time
In order to internalize the knowledge we’ve gained at a deeper level, we need to spend quality time with the ideas. Reading an entire book gives us the space and time to properly digest and absorb information. We can even begin to expand on the ideas by creating connections with other concepts.
Blinkist places its emphasis on distilling important information
This means: if your goal is to read a book in order to gain exposure to beautiful writing, you won’t be able to experience much of that with a Blink. The beauty of an author’s language is necessarily lost in the process of summarizing the work. You will be able to, however, see many examples of efficient writing.
A final drawback is the limited perspective
Through Blinkist, you are learning about a book from the perspective of the person who created the summary. The good news is that, based on my evaluation so far, I have found the quality to be reliable.
Even so, I wouldn’t limit my reading to Blinkist because I don’t want to read everything through another person. I want to read for myself and come to my own conclusions about a good book.
At the end of the day, the number of books we read doesn’t matter. It’s never about the quantity. It’s about the quality. This is why some books can be read and re-read many times, and each time will be a different experience.
Let Blinkist be the bridge that connects you to great works. It is not meant to take their place. Using this service with the wrong intention can rob you of the pleasure of reading.
In this article, I introduced the service Blinkist to you and explained how you can start using it. Then I showed several ways you can leverage the service to enhance your reading experience in English. Finally, I discussed what you must avoid along the way — this tool, like most things in life, is a double-edged sword.
A double-edged sword is a weapon with two sharp edges.
As the power of this sword can move in both directions, we use this metaphor to describe situations that can bring both benefits and harm.
Remember: samples are not actual tapas
Even though some people will inevitably treat Costco like a tapas buffet, you know better: the samples are not meant to replace real meals. No matter how many samples you consume and how full you get, the experience will never come near what you enjoy at a nice restaurant. Those little pieces of food or tiny cups of beverage do have an important role, however: they give you an idea of what the products are and help you decide if you want the full experience.
Hopefully, you’re now a smart Blinkist user. If you crave deeper discussions of books or of the knowledge gained from your reading, come to English Ever After — a community of wise and hardworking people who all have the same goal as you: to bring English to life!