This App Condense Books Into 20 Minute Reads — But Would You Use It?

What if you could read an entire book in under an hour? Turns out there are apps that can condense a book into 20 minute reads — or even shorter. So would you want to read them?

Obviously this idea wouldn't work with fiction — we read fiction for fun, so what would even be the point of trying to cut that short? — but for nonfiction (which we sometimes also read for fun), being able to absorb the relevant information in a hurry could theoretically be useful. And there are several apps that aim to do just that. Joosr, which is available on iOS, provides 20 minute summaries of non-fiction books; Blinkist, meanwhile, promises to do the same in 15 minutes on iOS and Android, though it frames it as "condensing" or "distilling" rather than summarizing. Both apps boast a larger user base. And they aren't alone out there.

The whole idea sounds counter-intuitive. After all, despite Blinkist claiming that books on its service are "distilled," you can't boil a full length book down into something that can be read in 15 minutes without losing information. When you summarize a book, it is no longer a book but a summary.

Diane Shipley, writing for The Guardian, however, says that she found a lot of value in these apps when she tried one out. "It’s easy for literary journalists to forget that for many people, the choice isn’t between reading Gillian Flynn and Gustave Flaubert, but between reading and not," she writes. Being able to get the most important information on an important topic via an app is, she believes, useful, and she found that the summaries might be short but they aren't dumbed down. So really, why not?

Personally, I still remain skeptical, not because I don't think that these apps and their summaries can't be useful. After all, if you want to learn more about a topic but don't have much free time, wanting to read something shorter is the natural thing to do, and I'm always in favor of people continuing to learn and engage with the world. But in the age of the Internet, when we have a wealth of information on virtually any topic at our finger-tips, do we have to summarize books in order to find succinct information?

The thing that I worry about with this sort of service is that we will start to forget that books need to be book-length for a reason, particularly if the apps advertise themselves the way that Blinkist does, subtly trying to imply that they give you all the takeaways you really need from any given title, and trying to downplay everything that gets lost when you transform what might have been a six hour read into a 15 minute read.

The value of nonfiction books is precisely that they stand in contrast to shorter, less nuanced, more distilled sources of information, which again, can be found all over the place in our modern society. And while there's obviously nothing wrong with that — I am the last person who will ever complain about living in the information age — it's still important that we also have something to counterbalance it.

Still, if you're looking for a way to gain a decent overview on a wide variety of topics, these services may be beneficial and are certainly worth giving a try.

Image: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash