Hope everyone’s doing as well as they can be during lockdown. I want to share a secret with you this week. Ever since I started my book club and this blog, people, for some reason, think that I’m some sort of reading machine who reads a book day. For starters, that’s really far away from the truth. I’m actually a very slow reader and I have to put in a decent amount of time to remember and apply the things that I’ve read. Secondly, I quote and talk about a lot of books that I haven’t fully read. I do this by reading very in-depth book summaries, which makes it seem like I read a lot more than I actually do. I’m not trying to say that you should give up reading and switch to reading summaries. What I am trying to say is that reading takes a lot of time and that we are all busy people. Whether you’re a student, a professional, or even a person who’s retired, I’m sure there’s a lot of things you want to do in a day that take up your time and reading a summary of a new idea is a lot better than not reading it at all. That’s why this week I thought it would be really cool to talk about the resources I use for getting my notes and book summaries. The format of this blog is going to be pretty straightforward. I’m going to walk you guys through each platform I use and what I love about them. Afterwards, at the end of the blog, I’m going to give my recommendation on which platform you should use.
Before we get started, I want to take the time and say that reading summaries will never give you the same experience and insight of taking the time to read the book itself. No matter what, I still try my very best to read for at least one hour every day because of the value it provides me. The reason I use book summaries is because I like to think I’m a pretty busy person and that it would take me a very long time to read every book on my GoodReads list. I also use summaries as a way to recap ideas from books I’ve already read and as a way to decide if I even want to invest the time and money into reading a particular book. It’s important to understand that not every book is worth fully reading. Some books have one central idea that gets padded into 300 pages just for the sake of forming a book. If that’s the case, don’t waste your time reading 300 pages to get one central idea, just read the summary. Anyways, let’s get started with the platforms I use.
Upfront on the list is a website/app that I discovered literally a week ago, and I’ve loved it ever since. What I love about Shortform is the fact that it cuts out all the fluff, but still manages to be really comprehensive. A lot of the time with summaries, they end up being so short and surface level that you don’t really take away any meaningful insights. However, that’s not the case with Shortform as it’s able to provide multiple levels of detail and thoughtful insight. The reason why Shortfrom is able to provide more insight than typical book summaries is because they summarize their books in two ways. The first summary is a simple one-page overview of the book that provides key takeaways. This takes roughly 15 minutes to read, which is time I think even the busiest of people have. After the one-page summary, they provide a full comprehensive summary and analysis of every useful idea from each chapter. This of course takes a lot more time to read but is totally worth it and is still much shorter than reading the book itself.
One of my favourite features about Shortform that I think makes it stand out from the rest of the book summary apps is that it even has exercises after every key idea gets explained. The problem with reading books and articles is that it’s really easy to forget what you’ve learned. That’s why Shortform lets you highlight and take notes from your favourite books as well as provide exercises for your brain so you can remember the things you read. For instance, one of the exercises from Jordan Peterson’s book, “12 Rules for Life” revolves around the idea of taking care of yourself. The exercise they provided for that idea was to write and explain ways you don’t take care for yourself and why you think you act like that. It was a simple exercise, but it really helped cement the idea of taking care of yourself.
Some other features of Shortform that are pretty awesome and worth mentioning include:
Blinkist has been in the reading summarizing industry since 2012 and is probably the most popular reading summary app on the market. What I love about Blinkist is its huge collection of books and audio books. Since they’ve been around much longer than Shortform, they were really able to build an impressive library. What’s also really cool about Blinkist is that they just introduced a new podcast summary section called shortcast. Now, if you wanted, you can even get summaries and insights from your favourite podcast episodes.
Blinkist is great and very popular. However, there are a few things that I don’t like about the platform. For starters, I don’t like how surface level the book summaries are. If I’m going to read a summary, I want to at least make it seem like I’ve read the book and I understand the ideas very well. With Blinkist, I’m just not able to do that. I’m also not a fan of the idea that I can’t add notes to my highlights as I don’t think highlights without notes add any value to my reading experience. Nevertheless, Blinkist still has a great selection of books and podcasts that only take a person 15-20 minutes to get through.
Founded in 1999, getAbstract has been around much longer than any of the previously mentioned platforms. For me, getAbstract is just okay. They have a huge range of books, and they even provide deeper summaries than Blinkist. However, they’re just really boring to me. Also, the getAbstract app and website interface is just super bland and doesn’t inspire me to read and learn, which is something that is super important when you’re busy. If you’re not feeling inspired to do something, I highly doubt you’d do it. I know I wouldn’t.
What Do I Use?
If you’re wondering what platform I use, then the answer is all three. I use the premium paid version of Shortform for getting in-depth summaries of books and articles as well for getting examples of concept exercises, I can do to solidify certain ideas. I use the free version of Blinkist, which gives me one summary each day. I essentially just use this to learn some random new ideas for the hopes of stumbling upon a book I might actually read but probably wouldn’t have found. I don’t use getAbstract that much, but it’s free for students so I occasionally use it if I’m in a rush to quickly find something out or if the book I’m looking for isn’t on Shortform yet.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
At the end of the day, you should pick the service that works well for you. A good way to figure that out would be to try the free versions of all them. However, if you want my honest opinion, then I think you should go with Shortform. Their thoughtful summaries plus in-depth exercises are just superior to the other platforms I’ve seen. I also love the fact that they’re a small start-up. If they’re this good already, then I’m sure they will improve quite a lot with just a short amount of time. That said, if you’re more interested in surface level ideas, getting through summaries as quickly as possible, and listening to podcasts, then go with Blinkist. Lastly, if you’re a student and want to read book summaries, but currently don’t have a $12 per month budget for it, then go with getAbstract. It’s free for students and they have a huge collection of summaries you can read.
I hope this blog was helpful to all the busy individuals out there. Just remember that reading summaries will never replace the experience of reading the full version of something. I will always recommend reading whole books and articles, so you don’t miss out on the author’s style of writing as well as the experience the author intended for you to have. Thanks for reading and I’ll talk to you guys next week.
I'm Farshad. I'm a PhD student 🔬, musician 🎶, and productivity nerd 🤓, who's currently researching nanotechnologies and cancer. In my spare time, I enjoy learning and exploring new ideas in the world of science, technology, and philosophy. I'm also always exploring new ways to help myself and others live better, happier and more meaningful lives.