I read a lot of books — not as many as some, and in this chapter of my life, not as many as our blogging partner Bob Morris — but I read a lot of books. Let me state the obvious — many (most) business books are not masterpieces of great literature. But nearly all of them are worth investing some time to learn what is in them — and nearly all of them have an idea or two that if I actually followed through on, my business life would be more productive, my thinking might be a little clearer, and my path to success would be helped.
Recently, I was reading some reviews for one of the books selected for the First Friday Book Synopsis (no, I won’t tell you which book it was), that complained that the book would have been fine as an essay, but there was simply not enough in it to justify a full book. And it got me thinking.
First, my agreement. Yes, there are business books that would be just fine as essays. The authors had to stretch things a bit to come up with a full book.
And, I have come to learn that a fair number of business books give you almost as much as you need in the introduction. The introduction is written with thoroughness, and when this is the case, the rest of the book is primarily commentary and elaboration. There is nothing wrong with this approach — and I appreciate, even love and greatly respect, a well-written introduction to a book. (By the way, I see this pattern in books on poverty and social justice also. I present synopses of such books at the Urban Engagement Book Club sponsored by Central Dallas Ministries).
But here’s the thing. Many times I read a book, and when I reach a key paragraph, I put the book down, and start “working,” because the book gave me the right prompt, the right idea, the right nudge…
Or, I have listened to a speaker, and a phrase, an idea, something, is said and I “tune out” for a while, because I am thinking about the implication of the idea just heard in the midst of a still ongoing presentation. I can assure you that I see this happen to people who listen to me — they hear something, and go into their own world of implications searching. So I miss part of a presentation, and maybe am partially tuned out (even, at times, when I am reading), because I am so energized by a good, important, useful idea.
So I am not bothered by a book that is really only worthy of an essay. If the ideas are good, I will take them in any form they arrive. And I will appreciate all good ideas. And, by the way, there is a chance I would not learn about this good idea if it were in an article or essay — I may have a better chance of discovering it if it is in a book.
Now — certainly, I prefer a book full of good content. But if all I get is an essay full of good content packaged in a too long book, I’ll take it. It is the bad ideas, the worthless content, that I dislike. And I can usually tell that in a hurry.
Maybe this is why our short synopses are so valuable. And maybe this is why the Q & A format that Bob Morris uses on this blog is so worthwhile. We are really lucky when we learn any ideas that are genuinely useful and helpful. And our synopses, and this blog, can provide such ideas from the books we choose.
(Note to authors, and to those of you who have a favorite book or author: of course I am not referring to your beloved book when I describe a book as not being a masterpiece. Your book is clearly a true, brilliant masterpiece. It is all of those other books I am referring to…)