Why (almost) no one reads nonfiction anymore

A few weeks back I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed and was struck by this comment from a former colleague:

These days many blame our lack of desire to read books on our supposed growing attention deficit disorder as a society. But what I personally find archaic about especially non-fiction books is their forced stereotypical length. Many topics could be sufficiently covered in far fewer pages, but that wouldn’t meet our previous expectations of what a proper length of a book was. To me the medium itself is dated, not our attention spans.

I could not agree more. I read a lot of nonfiction, and I love talking about books with friends and co-workers. But in these conversations, I find that many of them read very little (if any) nonfiction books.

Sure, the demands on our time have never been greater. And with our mobile devices we are always a push notification away from the next distraction. But the real problem with nonfiction, at least in my opinion, is that most many books just don’t need to be 300+ pages.

I regularly find myself loving a book after the first 20-30 pages, then running out of steam in the second half. I’ve found that many nonfiction books consist of filler. It’s the same message restated and regurgitated in ways that lack creativity and engagement. What’s wrong with publishing a good 100-page book? Or a 50-page book?

As my colleague Dan said, “If the goal is to optimize for learning efficiency, reading the whole book is almost never the right answer.”

I think he’s right. But if a book isn’t worth finishing, is it even worth buying?

And that’s why no one reads nonfiction anymore.

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2015

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. 

We regularly hear about the importance of reading books. Despite the many benefits (here are six that are science-backed), so many of us fail to make it a priority. For years I fell into this camp, always making excuses for why I didn’t have time for books.

In early 2014, I was issued a challenge by an MBA professor to read 30 books in a year. After accomplishing that, I set the same goal for 2015. In the process, I rediscovered a passion for reading I hadn’t felt since I was a young boy. By the end of the year, I had completed a total of 60 books. Not all were business-related, but the lessons I learned were priceless. Here are the 10 best books I read in 2015.

10. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

The author of the Dilbert comics writes a practical and hilarious career guide. I love his advice about using systems (e.g., learning to eat right) instead of goals (e.g., losing 10 pounds). Much of Adams’ advice is counterintuitive, and he provides a fresh perspective for those searching for the right career path.

9. Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google by Laszlo Bock

Google’s Head of HR shares the key practices that have made Google so successful. While free lunches and shuttle buses are not financially viable for many companies, the majority of Bock’s suggestions are free. The countless gems throughout this book make it a must read for HR professionals, managers, executives, or anyone else interested in making the workplace more innovative.

8. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

I love biographies of successful entrepreneurs and this one did not disappoint. Bezos started Amazon more than two decades ago and has grown it into one of the most valuable companies. But the most impressive thing about Bezos is that his company has continued to innovate despite its massive size and success—no easy task.

7. The Alliance by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh

The employer-employee relationship is broken. Gone are the days of lifelong employment, but the free agent approach we frequently see in the modern workplace is a poor alternative. The Alliance teaches how to rebuild the employer-employee relationship, and by following its principles, I learned how to have more direct, productive conversations with my managers.

6. 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t compare, but this memoir tells a remarkable story. In short, Solomon Northup was a free-born African American from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Within a year of gaining freedom, he wrote and published a firsthand account of what he endured. Northup is an incredible example of determination, resilience, and hope.

5. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I was initially perplexed why my business school professor would so heartily recommend a book on love written by a marriage counselor. But after reading the first chapter I learned why. Success in relationships doesn’t come from treating others the way we want to be treated, but in treating them the way they want to be treated. The Five Love Languages helped me better understand how to do that.

4. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

A multi-level biography that tells the story of University of Washington oarsman Joe Rantz and the other boys who defeated the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics. Rantz was abandoned as a child and endured the hardships that came from living through the Great Depression. His story is inspirational, but even more inspirational is the intense unity created among his teammates as they pursued Olympic gold.

3. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Elon Musk has been referred to as the next Steve Jobs, though some argue he’s already surpassed him. Musk’s story is far from complete, but this biography provides a well-written account of his life to date and his audacious plans for the future. I give a slight edge to Musk’s bio over Bezos’, partly because of the writing, and partly because Musk is the more fascinating figure.

2. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

For many, including me, creativity does not come naturally. I read this shortly after publishing my first book, and I wish I would have read it years before. I now keep a copy on my desk for quick reference. Chock-full of simple yet elegant insights, Steal Like an Artist is a short, wonderful read for anyone seeking to be more creative.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Many colleagues had praised this book, but it wasn’t until I saw it on my wife’s wish list that I started reading it. My goal was to better understand one of my children, but this book became even more relevant when I scored much higher than expected on the 20-question introvert test. Thankfully, Quiet goes well beyond the basic, black and white introvert stereotypes that are all too common. It is very well-researched and an engaging read. Rarely do I read a book that so dramatically changes how I view those around me and how I view myself. And for that, I list Quiet as the best book I read in 2015.

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The 30 Book Challenge: What I Learned

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. 

During the first lecture of my Business Strategy course, the professor declared that the key to thinking more strategically was learning how to ask better questions. He discussed several tools to develop this skill, but one stood out – read a lot.

The professor shared that years earlier he’d set a goal to read 30 books in a year. He achieved the goal and when on to read 30 books a year for the next 10 years. He promised that reading consistently would strengthen our ability to ask better questions and think more strategically.

I have always loved to read, but as I grew older and my schedule got busier, I struggled to find the time. My dad, who once taught time management courses for Franklin Covey, had a standard response whenever I complained about not having enough time. He’d say, “You know, everyone has the same 24 hours every day.” The quote always annoyed me, but I couldn’t deny its truth.

Following my professor’s lecture, I committed to take the 30 Book Challenge. It was early January and the start of a new semester, so I had 12 months to read 30 books. It’s now been almost a year, and I’ve achieved my goal.

I found many benefits from reading regularly, but the biggest benefit has been the joy of constantly learning new things. Here are a few other things I learned during the 30 Book Challenge.

Reading enhances your writing skills
Reading and writing skills tend to go hand-in-hand. I’ve noticed that the more I read, the better I write. Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

While most professionals don’t always view themselves as writers, we can all benefit from improved writing skills. Over the last few years I’ve sought to develop this skill, and reading consistently has helped considerably.

Reading is an escape from the daily grind
As a graduate student, I constantly feel pulled in a number of directions. The stress of classes, work and recruiting takes a toll. Reading has been a great way to eliminate stress. I find that reading good books relaxes me, reduces worry and helps me sleep.

Reading makes you more interesting
During my internship, I had several conversations with my manager and coworkers about books they had read. Over Thanksgiving, family members often asked about books I was reading, and it inevitably led to an interesting discussion. In the classroom, we often discuss leadership style and how to motivate employees. The books I read allow me to bring unique insights and relevant anecdotes to the discussions.

In no particular order, here’s a list of my favorite books from the year. Several of them are not business-related, but I found that those often provide the deepest career insights.

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
Ender’s Shadow, Orson Scott Card
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz
Catch Me If You Can, Frank W. Abagnale
The Obstacle Is The Way, Ryan Holiday
Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
Zero to One, Peter Thiel
Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull
Eat Move Sleep, Tom Rath

Looking back, I’m grateful that I accepted my professor’s 30 Book Challenge. I look forward to taking this challenge, once again, in 2015.

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